Illustrating the Three Types of Product Defects

On Behalf of | Aug 3, 2020 | Products Liability

Fundamentally, most product makers care little about their customers’ health and safety. As long as consumers are healthy and safe enough to click “buy now” or go to a store, that’s enough. This relentless pursuit of profits often leads to defective product injuries, as outlined below.

Legally, most of these claims involve the implied warranty provision in the Universal Commercial Code. Most manufactured products, regardless of size, shape, purpose, or cost, must meet or exceed certain standards. If the product does not do so, the manufacturer could be strictly liable for damages.

Strict liability means that negligence, maliciousness, fault, and related concepts are essentially irrelevant. Liability attaches as a matter of law. That’s the only way to effectively protect consumers from dangerous products. A lesser standard would put too many people at risk.

To establish liability in a particular situation, a Lexington personal injury attorney normally must establish a causal relationship between the product and the injury. Attorneys normally partner with expert witnesses in these cases. 

Design Defect

Maximizing profits means minimizing costs from the very beginning. So, engineers and other product designers often take shortcuts during this part of the process. Even if the company discovers the design flaw, executives often ignore the problem. They calculate that it is cheaper to risk adverse action than to retool the process and make the product safe.

Fifty years after the fact, the 1970s Ford Pinto is still a classic example of a design defect. The energy crisis was in full swing during this period. As a result, Ford faced intense competition not only from small Japanese cars, but also small domestic cars, such as AMC’s Gremlin and Chevrolet’s Chevette. In response, then-chairman Lee Iaccoca supposedly directed engineers to design a car that didn’t weigh an ounce more than 2,000 pounds or cost a dime more than $2,000.

The Pinto met those parameters, but to do so, engineers had to make some sacrifices. To save money and weight, they put the gas tank outside the rear axle and did not add a protective outer skin. As a result, the gas tank was prone to rupture and explosion even in low-speed rear end collisions.

Executives calculated that it was cheaper to pay lawsuit settlements than to recall the defective Pintos and make them safer. So, that’s what happened, and people died.

Manufacturing Defect

Some products are fine on the drawing board. But when production begins, problems begin as well. Frequently, product makers substitute cheap components or parts for more expensive and reliable ones. That was the case with Takata airbags. This saga began in the 1990s and is still underway. The last major airbag safety recall, which covered roughly ten million vehicles, occurred in January 2020.

Airbags are very delicate machines, particularly with regard to the chemical propellant. The airbag must inflate in the blink of an eye, but it must not over-inflate, or it will explode. That explosion typically consumes the steering column, showering passengers with deadly shrapnel.

For many years, Takata used a specially-designed propellant that expanded quickly but did not explode. Then, in the late 1980s, the company began using ammonium nitrate. That’s the same chemical which Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City truck bomb. Ammonium nitrate is highly unstable, especially in a high heat or humidity environment.

Not surprisingly, incidents began occurring across the United States and across the globe. At first, no one could figure out what was happening. Documents eventually surfaced which showed the Takata executives knew about the risk of explosion but ignored it, so sales would not suffer.

Marketing Defect

Some products are especially dangerous to some people. If these vulnerable victims also happen to be paying customers, manufacturers usually do little or nothing to protect them. In fact, to boost sales, they often market their wares in a reckless manner. Opioid painkillers are a good example.

In the early 1990s, the deferral government legalized direct marketing for prescription drugs. Very soon, those “ask your doctor about X” ads flooded airwaves and dominated billboards. That was about the same time Perdue Pharma and other pill manufacturers began making Oxycontin and other opioid pain relievers.

Many of these medicines are more powerful and addictive than morphine or even heroin. But that did not stop manufacturers from aggressively marketing their wares to people with “non-malignant pain,” an industry term for anyone with a bad headache.

To defend lawsuits, many opioid manufacturers claim that the Food and Drug Administration approved these drugs, so they are immune from product liability actions. That might be true for design and manufacturing defects, but it’s certainly not true with regard to marketing defects. Companies are responsible for these matters.

Generally, product makers are directly responsible for defective product injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.