California has strong and numerous consumer protection laws, but dangerous and defective products continue to injure thousands of Californians each year. Are you one of those victims? Accidents related to defective products range from serious car wrecks, to complications of medical devices, to malfunctions of consumer electronics and appliances, and more.
If you suffered injuries because of a product defect or malfunction, you may file a claim against not only the manufacturer to recover compensation for your damages, but every party that was responsible for the distribution and sale of the defective product, including the store where you purchased the defective product, like your local hardware store. The rule is that “one engaged in the business of selling or otherwise distributing products who sells or distributes a defective product is subject to liability for harm to person or property caused by the defect.” See Restatement (Third) of Torts, Product Liability, Section 1. The Law Office of Joshua Cohen Slatkin helps injured Californians hold manufacturers and related entities liable for their dangerous products. To schedule a free case evaluation, call a product liability lawyer in Los Angeles today at 310-923-7839.
How do I know if a defective product caused my accident?
In many product liability cases, it is obvious that a product is defective and responsible for causing injuries. For example, a consumer electronic, used in the correct manner by the consumer, that begins to spark and causes burn injuries is defective.
In other cases, whether a product is defective and responsible for an accident is not clear. For example, after most car wrecks, the drivers and insurance companies blame one of the drivers. But in many cases, inadequate brakes, engine malfunctions, and other defects may cause or contribute to accidents.
In any case, a product liability claim must establish that the product was defective and caused injuries, no matter how obvious it may seem. We may even secure expert witness testimony – such as automobile experts, medical device experts, engineers, etc. – to firmly establish that the product was defective and caused the accident.
What types of product defects are manufacturers liable for?
Product manufacturers are liable for any defect that leads to injuries and damages. Common types of defects that may cause injuries include:
Design Defects: A product is “defective in design when the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the adoption of a reasonable alternative design…and the omission of the alternative design renders the product not reasonably safe.” See Restatement Third of Torts, Product Liability, section 2. If product designers – such as engineers, user experience experts, and others – fail to identify and remedy a defect in the design, the result may be a defective product that puts consumers at risk. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified the problem with exploding Takata airbags as the use of ammonium nitrate-based propellants without a chemical drying agent. This failure in design can lead the airbags to explode and send shrapnel throughout the vehicle.
How to Determine if a Product Was Defectively Designed: The Consumer Expectation Test
In Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. (1978) 20 Cal. 3d 413 (plaintiff injured while operating a high-left loader at a construction site), the California Supreme Court held that a product may be found defective in design under these circumstances:
- First, if the person bringing the lawsuit establishes that the product failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner.
- Second, if the person bringing the lawsuit demonstrates that the product’s design proximately caused his injury and the defendant fails to establish that the benefits of the design outweigh the inherent risks of the design. Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. at page In Barker, the burden is on the defendant (i.e. the entity you are suing) to prove that the benefits of the design outweighed its risks.
Essentially, California has adopted a combination of the “consumer expectation test” and the risk-benefit analysis of the product in question. In Soule v. General Motors Corp. (1994) 8 Cal. 4th 548, 567 (plaintiff injured when car’s front wheel broke free during collision), the California Supreme Court stated that the consumer expectation test is reserved for “cases in which the everyday experience of the product’s users permits a conclusion that the product’s design violated minimum safety assumptions, and is thus defective regardless of expert opinion about the merits of the design.”
Manufacturing Defects: A defect in the manufacturing process may include inadequate raw materials or mistakes during assembly. A systemic problem in the manufacturing process might affect an entire product line, while a temporary problem in the process might affect items produced between certain dates or at certain manufacturing locations. The reason or cause of a manufacturing defect is irrelevant to establish liability.
Failure to Warn or Failure to Adequately Warn of the Dangers of a Product: Consumer protection laws require companies to put usage instructions and warning labels on products that could be dangerous and can’t be made safer through a different design. Examples of these include certain power tools that are inherently dangerous; users need to be warned of the potential dangers and how to avoid them. Often, manufacturers and other responsible parties will claim that the injured person misused the product, altered the product to make it unsafe, and/or used it in some unforeseeable manner. Laws also restrict advertising that promotes using a product in a dangerous manner. If a company fails to follow these regulations, it could lead to consumer misuse of the product.
How do I prove the manufacturer is liable for its defective product?
Victims of defective products may pursue three legal avenues to hold manufacturers liable for a product-related accident:
Consumers can hold manufacturers liable for their injuries if they can prove the manufacturer acted negligently. To do so, the consumer must prove that the manufacturer breached its duty to manufacture safe products.
Negligence by a manufacturer, for example, might include failing to conduct adequate safety testing prior to putting a product on the market, exposing consumers to a product with inherent design or manufacturing defects.
But unlike many other personal injury cases, claimants pursuing a product liability claim may not have to prove negligence. To hold a manufacturer liable under strict liability laws, claimants need only prove these five things:
- The product was dangerous or defective when it left the manufacturer.
- The claimant did not alter the product.
- The claimant used the product in the intended manner.
- The defective product caused the claimant’s injury.
- The claimant suffered damages.
So, claimants may establish strict liability by proving that a product lacked appropriate safety instructions or proving that a product contained a design defect, for example, if they can also link those defects to their injuries.
Breach of Warranty
A manufacturer might breach its warranty if a product does not perform as the manufacturer claimed. There are two potential breaches of warranty:
- Breach of Express Warranty: A breach of express warranty occurs when a manufacturer makes a claim (either in writing or verbally) that is untrue. For example, if a manufacturer labels a toy as safe for children under three, and it contains small parts that a child chokes on, the manufacturer may be liable on the basis that it breached its express warranty.
- Breach of Implied Warranty: A breach of implied warranty occurs when a product does not work in the manner that any reasonable person would expect. For example, if you purchase new brakes and despite the mechanic’s correct installation, the brakes fail to work properly, the manufacturer may be liable for the defective brakes.
Could parties other than a manufacturer be liable for a defective product?
Depending on the circumstances, yes, other parties may be liable. Retail sellers may be liable for defective products in some cases. A seller of a defective product may be liable on any one of these four alternative bases:
- The seller is negligent (i.e. breached a duty of care which caused the injury)
- The used product has a manufacturing defect and “a reasonable person in the position of the buyer [would expect] the used product to present no greater risk of defect than if the product were new;”
- The seller (or a predecessor in the chain of distribution) has “remanufactured” the product; or
- The defect arises out of the “used product’s noncompliance with a product safety statute or regulation.” See Restatement, Products Liability, section 8.
Other parties that may be liable for a defective product include:
- Parts manufacturers
- Manufacturers that assemble the product
- Distributors (In California, each entity in the chain of distribution is liable for product defects (see, e.g. Vandermark v. Ford Motor Co. (1964( 61 Cal. 2d 256, 262))
- Retail stores selling the product
- Sellers of the product components, including suppliers of raw materials.
- Advertisers (California law supports liability for false representation in advertising, even when the ultimate consumer was unaware of it. See Westlye v. Look Sports, Inc. (1993) 17 Cal. App. 4th 1715, 1751, 22 Cal. Rptr. 2d 781.)
When filing any personal injury claim, it is important not to narrowly focus on any one liable party, as others may hold liability as well. We closely examine the details of the accident to evaluate all the causes and contributing factors, and thus identify the parties liable for the accident.
What can I do to help my product liability claim?
If you suffered injuries due to a dangerous product, the best thing you can do to protect your rights is to put the defective item and all its packaging and instructions in a safe place. Do not throw it away or further alter it.
If you were in a car accident and your car is being towed from the scene, make sure you know where the towing company is taking your car. Write down the name of the towing company, its phone number, and the location to which it is bringing your vehicle.
Here are a few other things you can do to protect your claim:
- Save the proof of purchase or sale receipts that prove that you bought the product
- Save all documents (receipts, invoices, etc.) related to any repairs you have made to the product.
- Save all maintenance records for the product (for example, maintenance records related to your car)
- Save all bills and receipts for accident-related expenses
- Document the time you miss from work
- Take photographs of the defective product and your injuries
- Speak with a lawyer as soon as you can
Where can I get help with my Los Angeles product liability claim?
Product manufacturers and corporations have access to their own legal teams and industry experts. Make sure you have your own legal representation.
At the Law Office of Joshua Cohen Slatkin, we can help you identify the liable parties, collect evidence, and build your case under the appropriate theory of liability. Call our Los Angeles office today at 310-923-7839 to schedule your free consultation.