What is Products Liability?

| Jan 21, 2021 | Products Liability

Generally, individuals are legally responsible for injury damages if they were negligent, which is essentially a lack of ordinary care. If a mechanic puts a tire on incorrectly, the driver of that vehicle could be injured. But manufacturers are strictly liable for the injuries their dangerous products cause. If a tire is faulty, tens of thousands of motorists could be injured. A negligence standard does not adequately protect consumers in these situations.

Because these cases are so big, they are procedurally different from ordinary negligence claims. Nevertheless, there are only three basic types of products liability cases, as examined below.

Due to the serious injuries that these victims normally sustain, substantial compensatory damages are usually available. Additionally, because these companies often callously place profits before people, substantial punitive damages might be available as well. Jurors may award these additional damages if there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally disregarded a known risk.

Design Defect

Corporate marketing campaigns try to convince consumers to buy certain items, because these items will make their lives better. But most companies care almost nothing about quality of life. They only care about making money. Therefore, they often take shortcuts, especially during the design process.

The 1970s Ford Pinto is the classic example of a design defect. Many people are familiar with this tale. In the 1970s, company executives instructed engineers to design a lightweight, cheap car to compete with the flood of other lightweight, cheap cars which were so popular back then.

So, engineers designed the Ford Pinto. To conserve weight and decrease costs, designers placed the gas tank behind the real axel and did not include a protective bladder or other safety device. As a result, the Pinto’s gas tank often ruptured and exploded in almost any rear-end crash. 

Ford could have easily corrected the flaw by better protecting the gas tank. However, executives determined that it would be cheaper to pay lawsuit settlements. In other words, human lives were expendable in the name of profitability.

The Pinto is certainly not the only example of such behavior. Companies almost cut corners in this way, if they think they can get away with it.

Manufacturing Defect

Sometimes, product makers take shortcuts later in the manufacturing process. For example, to save money, many hip implant companies use cheap imported metal parts. These components often have high levels of mercury and other dangerous heavy metals.

Takata airbags are an even better illustration. Since their introduction in the 1970s, ironically about the same time as the first Pintos rolled off the line, airbags have saved countless lives in motor vehicle crashes. By the early 1990s, Takata had grown to be one of the largest airbag companies in the world.

One of the reasons Takata airbags were so successful was the chemical propellant. Sodium azide was a stable propellant that inflated the airbag rapidly, but did not cause it to explode. Furthermore, environmental conditions, like heat and humidity, did not affect sodium azide.

This propellant was also expensive. To save money, Takata started using ammonium nitrate, which was basically the same substance in the Oklahoma City truck bomb, the recent Beirut ship explosion, and a number of other disasters. Furthermore, ammonium nitrate is extremely unstable. It also degrades rapidly when exposed to high humidity or heat.

Takata’s drive to save money seriously injured thousands of people when their airbags exploded and hurled shrapnel at them. Observers believe that millions of vehicles with defective Takata airbags are still on the road.

Inherently Dangerous Products or Activities

Manufacturers are liable for design or manufacturing defect injuries if the victim/plaintiff proves the product was defective and the defective product caused injury. Some jurisdictions also require victim/plaintiffs to show that a reasonably safe design or material was available.

Injuries due to inherently dangerous products or activities are a bit different. These victim/plaintiffs must only establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that their injuries were related to the product in question.

Bear traps and fireworks are examples of inherently dangerous products. These products are so dangerous that no amount of careful handling can make them entirely safe. In other words, even if victims use the products exactly according to specifications and the manufacturers were very careful, serious injuries are still possible.

Environmental pollution is an example of an inherently dangerous activity. Dumping hazardous materials in the water or releasing them into the air is always very risky. So, defendants are almost liable for any resulting injuries, as long as victim/plaintiffs establish causation.

 

Manufacturers are legally responsible for the injuries their dangerous products or activities cause. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions.