3 Types of Product Liability Claims

May 11, 2023 @ 1:24 pm

When you buy or use something, you should be able to trust not only that your purchase will perform as promised but also that it will be safe to use and will do no harm. Inversely, manufacturers and distributors of consumer goods are responsible for ensuring that their products will deliver what they promise and that they will do so safely. Unfortunately, reality sometimes falls short. When a product directly causes injury, products liability becomes an issue. Products liability claims provide a venue for individuals who have been harmed to recover damages. These are classified under three types of product liability claims—design defect claims, manufacturing defect claims and marketing defect claims.

1. Design Defect Claims

Product liability begins with a product’s design. At some point, just about every item we buy goes through the process of teams of people imagining a product and figuring out how to create it. Someone has to make a decision on everything from what the finished end product should look like to minute details like the materials or ingredients used for each component and specific characteristics like their size, weight, shape, flexibility, strength, movement or audio volume, for example.

Design flaws happen when someone miscalculates or makes a conceptual, engineering or other design error in determining how a product will be made. Then, when the product is manufactured to the design specifications, it may not be able to perform as desired simply because the way it was designed won’t allow it. In fact, it may result in an injury to the user.

  • A part that must bear weight or force may be too light to handle the intended loads.
  • A guard or shield panel may be too small, too flimsy or the wrong shape to offer sufficient protection to the user.
  • A material choice or shaped fit may not offer the traction needed to prevent slips and falls.
  • A certain ingredient may not be appropriate for the intended result.
  • Parts of a toy may present a choking hazard to the children or pet the toy was intended to entertain.

For a design defect products liability claim to be effective, the person harmed must be able to prove a number of claim elements.

  • The user was harmed while using the product properly for its intended purpose. More specifically, the user was harmed because of the design defect.
  • The product was manufactured for its intended purpose according to design specifications that caused it to be dangerous. This means all products manufactured to the design have the same dangerous design flaw.
  • In some cases, the claim may need to show that an alternative cost-effective design would have served the purpose and been safer.

Individual circumstances further determine whether a design defect claim will be based on negligence, strict liability or breach of warranty of fitness. When a manufacturer fails to take reasonable measures to ensure their design will result in a safe product, the case may be based on negligence. When a manufacturer incorporates measures to ensure their design will be safe but those measures are insufficient, the case may be based on strict liability. When a manufacturer implies that a product can be used for a certain purpose, but the product isn’t up to the task, the case may be based on a breach of warranty of fitness.

Related: The Top 4 Product Liability Cases 

2. Manufacturing Defect Claims

While a product’s design may be flawless, the manufacturing process can introduce errors that can prove injurious to users. Manufacturing defects happen when the actual production process introduces a deviation from the specifications of the product’s design. Manufacturing defects may affect only one batch or lot of product, multiple batches or lots, items made on a certain production line, products manufactured at a certain location or during a certain time period, or all products—depending on the source of the manufacturing error.

The manufacturing process encompasses everything from sourcing the needed raw materials, parts or components and processing them appropriately for the desired result to assembling products and even storing components or finished products properly prior to shipping and delivery.

Manufacturing defects can be difficult to track simply because of the number of components, ingredients and supply sources involved as well as the multiple steps in the manufacturing process. The problem can originate with substandard materials or parts, production equipment failures or even the mistakes of the manufacturer’s employees.

  • A manufacturer substitutes a cheaper, more-available yet less-effective fastener for the heavy-duty, more secure one specified in the design.
  • A substance isn’t heated to the temperature needed for the amount of time needed to achieve the desired result due to operator error, poor management decisions or production equipment line failure.
  • An assembly technician installs wiring improperly or fails to install a part as simple as a spring or lever.
  • An impurity is introduced into the production line, compromising the product’s safety.
  • Components contain flaws like cracks, missing threads, irregular edges or other quality control issues.

Like design defect claims, for a manufacturing defect claim to be effective, the person harmed must be able to prove a number of claim elements.

  • The user was harmed while using the product for its intended purpose. More specifically, the harm occurred due to the manufacturing defect in the product.
  • The product contained a harmful defect when it left the manufacturer. This type of products liability can also apply to distributors or retailers, for example, if parts, ingredients or products are compromised before reaching the consumer, yet the item is still placed into the stream of commerce.

Basically, manufacturing defect claims are based on deviations that set a finished product apart from the product design. In some cases, if the product causing harm was also destroyed in an event—a car accident, for example, or an explosion—a manufacturing defect claim can be based on malfunction doctrine. Malfunction doctrine allows a victim to demonstrate that their injury indicates the presence of a malfunction or defect.

Related: Product Liability Laws: Internet Challenges and the Dangers Lurking Behind Them 

3. Marketing Defect Claims

Manufacturers are responsible for warning consumers of dangers associated with using their product—especially those that might not be obvious. Sometimes, however, the advertising, messaging and documentation for a product misrepresent or overlook its associated risks. The product may be designed and manufactured properly, but the packaging, labeling, inserts and even oral statements may fail to warn users of the risks associated with the product’s use or even misuse.

Pharmaceuticals are often a focus of marketing defect claims due to the prevalence of the side effects, interactions and unintended reactions associated with medications and medical devices. Foods and chemicals are also products of concern because of the unique impacts they can have on various individuals. However, just about any product can be open to a marketing defect claim.

  • A manufacturer may use language to describe its product’s features, giving the impression that a dangerous malfunction or accident is impossible without acknowledging associated risks. Claims using absolute terminology are especially suspect, offering a false sense of security.
  • A drug manufacturer may market its product as “safe” or “nontoxic” and fail to mention certain possible side effects.
  • A product labeled “safe and gentle” may be safe and gentle in its intended use but caustic or life-threatening in off-label use.
  • Images showing people using a product doing something dangerous without consequences and without a disclosure or warning may give consumers the erroneous idea that the product was designed for anyone to be able to do the activity safely.
  • A medical device or personal health product may not include instructions for its use or the instructions may be vague or cursory.

For a marketing defect claim to be effective, the harmed person must be able to prove a number of claim elements.

  • The product carried a specific potential risk that the manufacturer had a responsibility to disclose but did not.
  • The person was using the product properly yet suffered injury due to the use of the product.

Marketing defect products liability claims can be based on failure to warn, insufficient directions, or false or misleading advertising or promotions. When products don’t have the proper warning labels to inform consumers about possible injury or adverse effects, the marketing defect claim can be based on failure to warn. If a product is potentially dangerous—even if it is misused or used in an alternative way—and fails to include instructions, the marketing defect claim may be based on insufficient directions. When a product is promoted with misleading or false images, terminology or statements that gloss over or ignore potential hazards, they can also form the basis of a marketing defect claim.

When You Need a Products Liability Attorney

In any of the three types of products liability claims, you must be able to demonstrate that a particular product’s defect was in some way directly responsible for your injury. If you’ve been the victim of an injury due to a product that was supposed to be safe, reach out to one of the products liability attorneys at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik. Schedule your free consultation, and let us help you get the compensation you deserve.







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