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Defective Product Lawsuits and Alabama Law

How do you establish negligence and/or strict liability

Corporations have a legal responsibility to ensure that their products are reasonably safe for consumers. A person injured by a dangerous and defective product can hold the responsible company legally liable. In Alabama, there are multiple theories of liability in defective product claims. Here, you will find an overview about the most important things to know about establishing liability in a defective product lawsuit in Alabama.

Three Theories of Liability

In a defective product lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove that they suffered harm because a company failed to live up to its legal responsibilities. Under Alabama law (AL Code § 6-5-521), a product liability action is defined as a claim based on a product error related to “manufacture, construction, design, formula, preparation, assembly, installation, testing, warnings, instructions, marketing, packaging, or labeling.”

When product liability attorney David J. Hodge is considering taking a case, he does risk-utility analysis to compare a product’s risk compared to its utility. “Obviously a chainsaw is going to cut. You can't sue a chainsaw manufacturer for manufacturing a chainsaw that works,” says Hodge, of Morris, King and Hodge in Huntsville.

“It depends on the type of product,” he continues. “If it's a design defect, are you standing alone, or are there a lot of other failures that show other people have had similar outcomes with this product? Is it failing in a consistent manner? Have others experienced similar harm? There's always safety in numbers.”

There are three different theories of liability in these cases:

  1. Negligence: In Alabama, a plaintiff can bring a product liability claim on the grounds of negligence. Broadly defined, negligence is the failure to take due care within the context of a particular situation. A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer may be negligent if they produced and/or sold a defective product that would not have been unreasonably dangerous if only they had taken the standard safety precautions.
  2. Breach of Warranty: Breach of warranty is another potential theory of liability in an Alabama defective product claim. A breach of warranty case is most often filed against a product manufacturer. In effect, this type of claim argues that an injury occurred because the product in question did not work as it should have. There are two types of product warranties: Express warranty and implied warranty. Under the theory of implied warranty, you may be able to bring a product liability claim based on a breach even if you do not technically have a written “warranty” for the product.
  3. Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (Strict Liability): Under AL Code § 6-5-52, consumers may be able to bring a product liability claim under the Alabama extended manufacturer's liability doctrine. In effect, this is the state’s strict liability statute for defective product claims. A manufacturer can be held strictly liable for injuries caused by a defective product in certain circumstances. To bring a claim on the grounds of strict liability in Alabama, Hodge says a plaintiff generally must establish “that they haven't modified it or altered it; that there's either a defect in the warning, the design, or the manufacturer of the product; and that that defect renders that product unreasonably dangerous. Most of the time, you're going to have to have an expert render an opinion as to why that product failed, or is failing, to establish a basic case or to get to a jury.”

How Long Does It Take and How Much Does It Cost?

“There is always risk in a products case when you're going against a large company that has a design team and a design section and a lot of assets, and it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to get a case like that prepared and ready for trial,” Hodge says. On average, he estimates it takes two or three years to resolve a product liability case.

Just like the timeframe, the cost of these cases can also be extensive, but it all depends. “Some cases and products are relatively simple. There's a simple solution or a problem that presents itself. Others are obviously more complex,” he says, adding that some single cases wind up being multi-district litigation involving several parties.

Lawyers in this area commonly charge on a contingency basis, meaning they are only compensated if the case wins at trial or settles. In that event, they commonly take between 33% and 40% of the award, or possibly higher. “It depends on the law firm, the case, the risk involved, and the costs in presenting it,” Hodge says.

It is not always clear how a specific case should be pursued, and it’s recommended that you speak with multiple attorneys to get a clearer picture.  If you or your family member was injured by a defective product, an experienced Alabama product liability attorney will protect your rights. For more information on this area of law, see our products liability overview.

“A couple of years ago I had a case involving a household item that blinded a client,” Hodge recalls. “It was a fairly obvious design issue and, after the case, the defendant stopped manufacturing it in that fashion. There’s a lot of reward when you see that kind of outcome—not just your client, but anyone else who might be harmed like that. It’s why I do what I do.”

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