Product Liability Lawyer in Southern California
Our firm pioneered product liability cases when our Southern California
product liability lawyers defended General Motors in the Corvair litigation
of the 1960s. Later, the firm broadened its product liability practice
to include more diversified product manufacturers. Today, we are involved
in many types of product claims, including involvement in the Ford/Firestone
cases and asbestos products litigation.
Overview of Product Liability Claims
Defective or dangerous products are the cause of thousands of personal
injuries every year in the U.S. "Product liability law," the
legal rules concerning who is responsible for defective or dangerous products,
is different from ordinary injury law, and this set of rules sometimes
makes it easier for an injured person to recover damages.
Product liability refers to a manufacturer or seller being held liable
for placing a defective product into the hands of a consumer. Responsibility
for a product defect that causes injury lies with all sellers of the product
who are in the distribution chain. Potentially liable parties include:
the product manufacturer, a manufacturer of component parts, the wholesaler
and the retail store that sold the product to the consumer.
In general terms, the law requires that a product meet the ordinary expectations
of the consumer. When a product has an unexpected defect or danger, the
product cannot be said to meet the ordinary expectations of the consumer..
There is no federal product liability law. Typically, product liability
claims are based on state laws and brought under the theories of negligence,
strict liability or breach of warranty. In addition, a set of commercial
statutes in each state, modeled on the Uniform Commercial Code, will contain
warranty rules affecting product liability. An experience personal injury
attorney should understand these laws and be able to explain how they
relate to your situation.
For product liability to arise, at some point the product must have been
sold in the marketplace. Historically, a contractual relationship, known
as "privity of contract," had to exist between the person injured
by a product and the supplier of the product in order for the injured
person to recover. In most states today, however, that requirement no
longer exists, and the injured person does not have to be the purchaser
of the product in order to recover. Any person who foreseeably could have
been injured by a defective product can recover compensation for his or
her injuries, as long as the product was sold to someone.
Liability for a product defect could rest with any party in the product's
chain of distribution, such as the manufacturer, wholesalers, a retail
seller of the product and a party who assembles or installs the product.
For strict liability to apply, the sale of a product must be made in the
regular course of the supplier's business. Thus, someone who sells
a product at a garage sale would probably not be liable in a product liability
action. A product liability attorney should be able to help you better
understand product liability law as it relates to your circumstances.
Types of Product Defects
Under any theory of liability, a plaintiff in a product liability case
must prove that the product that caused injury was defective and that
the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous. There are three types
of defects that might cause injury and give rise to manufacturer or supplier
liability: design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects.
Design defects are present in a product from the beginning, even before
it is manufactured, in that something in the design of the product is
inherently unsafe. Manufacturing defects are those that occur in the course
of a product's manufacture or assembly. Finally, marketing defects
are flaws in the way a product is marketed, such as improper labeling,
insufficient instructions or inadequate safety warnings.
A design defect is some flaw in the intentional design of a product that
makes it unreasonably dangerous. Thus, a design defect exists in a product
from its inception. For example, a chair that is designed with only three
legs might be considered defectively designed because it tips over too
easily. Design defect claims often require a showing of negligence; however,
strict liability may be imposed for an unreasonably dangerous design if
the plaintiff can present evidence that there was a cost-effective alternative
design that would have prevented the risk of injury. In some cases, if
a product was so unreasonably dangerous that it never should have been
manufactured, the availability of a safer design might not be required
to hold the designer liable.
A product has a manufacturing defect when the product does not conform
to the designer's or manufacturer's own specifications. Manufacturing
defect cases are often the easiest to prove, because the manufacturer's
own design or marketing standards can be used to show that the product
was defective. But proving how or why the flaw or defect occurred can
be difficult, so the law applies two special doctrines in product liability
cases to help plaintiffs recover even if they cannot prove a manufacturer
The first doctrine, known as "res ipsa loquitur," shifts the
burden of proof in some product liability cases to the defendants. Translated,
this Latin term means "the thing speaks for itself," and indicates
that the defect at issue would not exist unless someone was negligent.
If the doctrine is successfully invoked, the plaintiff is no longer required
to prove how the defendant was negligent; rather, the defendant is required
to prove that it was not negligent.
The second rule that helps plaintiffs in product liability cases is that
of strict liability. If strict liability applies, the plaintiff does not
need to prove that a manufacturer was negligent, but only that the product
was defective. By eliminating the issue of manufacturer fault, the concept
of no-fault, or "strict" liability allows plaintiffs to recover
where they otherwise might not.
Marketing defects include improper labeling of products, insufficient instructions,
or the failure to warn consumers of a product's hidden dangers. A
negligent or intentional misrepresentation regarding a product may also
give rise to a product liability claim.
Unavoidably Unsafe Products
By their nature, some products simply cannot be made safer without losing
their usefulness. For example, an electric knife that is too dull to injure
anyone would also be useless for its intended purpose. It is generally
believed that, as to such products, users and consumers are the best equipped
to minimize risk. Thus, while a product might not be deemed unreasonably
dangerous, manufacturers and suppliers of unavoidably unsafe products
must give proper warnings of the dangers and risks of their products so
that consumers can make informed decisions regarding whether to use them.
Common Defenses to Product Liability Claims
A defense often raised in product liability cases is that the plaintiff
has not sufficiently identified the supplier of the product that allegedly
caused the injury. A plaintiff must be able to connect the product with
the party (or parties) responsible for manufacturing or supplying it.
There is an exception to this rule, known as the "market share liability"
exception, which applies in cases involving defective medications. Where
a plaintiff cannot identify which of the pharmaceutical companies that
supply a particular drug supplied the drug he/she took, each manufacturer
will be held liable according to its percentage of sales in the area where
the injury occurred. Another defense a manufacturer might raise is that
the plaintiff substantially altered the product after it left the manufacturer's
control, and this alteration caused the plaintiff's injury. A related
defense is that the plaintiff misused the product in an unforeseeable
way, and that his/her misuse of the product caused the injuries alleged.
Another defense a manufacturer might raise is that the plaintiff substantially
altered the product after it left the manufacturer's control, and
this alteration caused the plaintiff's injury. A related defense is
that the plaintiff misused the product in an unforeseeable way, and that
his/her misuse of the product cause the injuries alleged.
Get Legal Help for a Defective Product Injury
Product liability actions are often quite complex, and establishing legal
fault often requires the assistance and testimony of experts. There are
several theories under which a plaintiff might bring a claim, and several
defenses that might defeat such a claim. Accordingly, it is important
to contact an experienced product liability attorney when someone suffers
injury caused by a potentially defective product.
Spray, Gould & Bowers LLP has been representing the legal needs of
Southern Californians since 1925. As one of the oldest law practices in
Southern California, we have built a solid reputation among local judges
and attorneys as a law firm that produces positive results and represents
clients with the highest of ethical standards. We pride ourselves on prioritizing
our clients and work hard to provide successful personal service to each
of our clients. Our Orange County product liability lawyers have extensive
experience representing these types of cases and are committed to providing
our clients with the very best representation possible.