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In Product Failure Cases, Who Is Liable?

If a product injures a consumer due to a defect or improper labeling, every party in the distribution chain is potentially liable. The product liablity thus potentially extends to:

  • The product manufacturer
  • A contractor who manufactured parts used in the final product
  • A third party that assembled or installed the product
  • The distributor
  • The retail store(s) that sold the product

To better understand who can be held responsible in a product failure case, let’s examine the three main categories of product liability.

Types of Product Liability

In a product liability claim, the plaintiff must prove that they were harmed due to a design defect, manufacturing defect, or marketing defect (also known as failure-to-warn).

Design Defects

In a design defect case, the plaintiff claims that an injury occurred due to a flaw in the product design. The implication is that the entire line of products—not just an individual item or bad batch– could be unreasonably hazardous to consumers. Examples could include solar eclipse sunglasses that fail to protect the wearer’s eyes from harmful radiation or a line of drug-eluting stents that are prone to breaking once implanted. In these cases, the product manufacturer or a third-party manufacturer who designed components for the product could be liable.

Manufacturing Defects

A manufacturing defect occurs during the production process rather than the design process and could affect only a small number of products (or even an individual product). A manufacturer could be liable, for example, if a single batch of their over-the-counter medication becomes contaminated and causes consumers to get sick. Another example could be a car manufacturer using an adhesive that fails to keep the bumper on one of their models, potentially leading to accidents on the highway.

Marketing Defects

In a failure-to-warn or marketing defect case, a plaintiff argues that they were injured because a product was improperly labeled or lacked essential safety information. For instance, a plaintiff might sue a pharmaceutical company for failing to include a warning label about their medication interacting with aspirin, leading to consumers experiencing extreme side effects.

In a failure-to-warn case, the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer could be held liable. The plaintiff is required to prove that the defendant knew the product was potentially hazardous and had a duty to warn consumers. The plaintiff must also show that the risk of injury was unpredictable. For example, someone who cut their finger on a pocket knife would likely have a hard time winning a case against the manufacturer because a reasonable consumer should have assumed the knife would be sharp.

Avomeen Can Identify the Cause of Product Failure

In cases where the cause of product failure is unclear, it may become necessary to work with a failure analysis testing lab. Avomeen can perform chemical and physical tests on defective products to identify the underlying issue. For example, we can identify the source of impurities in a batch of medicine, discover the source of contamination in a manufacturing facility, or determine why the plastic used in a product is unexpectedly breaking under pressure. Our experienced chemists help both manufacturers and litigators uncover the cause of a product defect, which often prevents future product failure, costly product liability lawsuits and protects consumers from harm.