What is Product Liability Law?

When do you have a case, and what kinds of cases are there?

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 27, 2023

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Product liability shows up in every area of personal injury law as a possible foundation for your claim. So what is it? How do you know when you have a case, and what kinds of cases are there? Who is responsible when a product harms a consumer?

Product liability claims are a special kind of personal injury case you can bring against companies that make and sell products when a defective product harms you. This overview discusses the most common way to bring a “tort” case—strict liability—so that you feel prepared to take the next steps, including speaking with a lawyer filing your lawsuit.

Product Liability Law – What You Need To Know

  • Products liability claims are a part of what the legal system refers to as “tort” law.
  • Products liability cases arise when a defect in the dangerous product has caused the plaintiff’s injury.
  • There are two types of product defects: design defects and manufacturing defects.
  • The most common way for an injured party to bring a tort case for products liability is through a strict liability cause of action.

An Overview of Torts: Products Liability Law

State legislatures draft products liability laws. These state laws help alleviate consumer expectations and safety concerns by applying pressure on companies to maintain safety standards throughout the design, manufacturing process, and selling of products. Because state statutes differ from one jurisdiction to the next, it is best to consult an attorney with experience in this area of law.

You can bring a product liability case when you are injured by a product, specifically a defective product. You can generally hold liable any party along the manufacturing chain for such products, including the manufacturer, wholesaler or distributor, and retailer. Design defects, manufacturing defects, and defects in marketing (such as inadequate labeling) can create dangerous products and be the cause of the plaintiff’s injury, leading to liability.

If you decide to pursue a case, you will most likely argue a claim of strict liability. Tort law offers other legal theories of liability on which you can base your case. This includes breach of warranty claims as well as comparative and contributory negligence cases. In breach of warranty cases, provisions of the federal Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) may be relevant. Still, these types of cases are harder to win because they require you to identify more specific actions that lead to product defects.

Strict Liability

In a strict liability case, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. They must prove the facts of their case by a “preponderance of the evidence.”

The product manufacturer’s intent or fault doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter if they took reasonable steps to ensure that the product was not defective. Courts and lawmakers set the strict liability standard on purpose. Without this standard, consumers would have to identify what went wrong and when between the time the product was designed and the time they purchased the product, which would make cases very difficult to win.

To be successful in a strict product liability case, you will need to show that the product was unreasonably dangerous when it was designed during the manufacturing process, or when it was sold. You will also need to prove causation, or that you were actually injured or suffered property damage by the defective product. It is not enough that a defective product went unused on your shelf or that the product harmlessly malfunctioned.

Some defenses are available to the party you are trying to hold liable. For example, the other party can show that you used the product incorrectly or carelessly or in a way you knew could lead to injury. They can even try to show you knew the product was defective and used it anyway, assuming the risk of potential injury. They can also show that someone else interfered with the product enough that the way it was designed or manufactured had nothing to do with your injury.

Common Questions To Ask an Attorney

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. What do you have to prove in a products liability case?
  2. How do I prove a product was defective?
  3. What is the statute of limitations or statute of repose on bringing a lawsuit?
  4. What compensation can I get through a products liability lawsuit?
  5. What constitutes adequate warnings on a product?
  6. How long does it take to settle a products liability lawsuit?
  7. Can I sue the retailer who sold me the product if the product manufacturer created the defect?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire product liability action through this complicated area of law. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a personal injury lawyer with experience with product liability cases. 

Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

Product liability suits can by long and trying experiences. One way that an injured person can help alleviate their burden is through a products liability attorney. Your lawyer will help you evaluate your case and determine whether you should bring a strict liability case or whether another legal theory will be more effective.

They will also be familiar with the specific things you need to prove in your state, and they will know who you can sue and for what. Your lawyer will also help you get copies of the necessary medical records and product designs. They will help you interview potential witnesses who can testify to how the product was made or how you used it.

A lawyer will anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.

What do I do next?

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