The paradox of many consumer products is that we enjoy buying them and often take their safety for granted, due to the fact that we often do not appreciate the risk they pose. In fact, not every dangerous product is like the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model air rifle” from the classic movie “a Christmas Story” in which the main character Ralphie desperately wanted despite warnings he would shoot his eye out. Ironically poor Ralphie did nearly shoot his eye out with the rifle.
Given the wide scope and volume of consumer products whose danger is not as apparent as an air rifle, we must understand that many products we pass off as completely harmless or likely harmless could pose a safety risk. As the public learned, recently in the case of imported Chinese hover boards whose batteries caught fire, one cannot always assume that a product will be safe for consumers to use even under normal use.
For consumers, determining when a product could present a risk or has some latent defect which impacts its usability, involves being notified by the government, retailers, and manufacturers that a product is defective. In the case of the self-combusting hover boards, this was not difficult due to more than ample news coverage of the problem. However, consumers are often left to their own devices to figure out if a product has been recalled. Further making the problem worse is the fact that if a product is dangerous, yet has not caused an injury the public may not be made aware of this problem until it is too late. Once a product begins to cause injuries to consumers, an injured party must rely on the what is known as products liability law to seek recourse for injuries caused by a defective product.
In California, a person seeking to recover damages for injuries caused by a defective product generally has three options: (1) strict products liability, (2) negligence and (3) breach of warranty.
An injured consumer may seek compensation from the manufacturer of a product when the manufacturer places a product on the market with knowledge that a consumer would not reasonably inspect it for defects and that it has a defect that causes injury to a person. Under a theory of strict liability, a consumer injured by a defective product in California is required to prove that
- The product was used in intended or reasonably foreseeable manner (normal use);
- The product was defective when it left defendant’s possession. A defective product can include a manufacturing defect; a design defect or insufficient instructions or warning of potential safety hazards.
- The defective product was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries or damages.
For example, a consumer is injured by a saw blade on a table saw that cuts the hand of the user, despite the user taking reasonable precautions when using the saw. It was later discovered that a fault guard on the saw’s blade was the reason for the user’s injury. As such, the saw’s manufacturer would be held liable under a theory of strict liability, without establishing the manufacturer was negligent in its design or manufacturing of the saw, only that it allowed the defective product to be placed on the market for consumers to purchase.
An injured party may allege that he or she is eligible for compensation arising from an injury caused by a consumer product if the plaintiff can establish the following
- The defendant designed, manufactured, supplied, installed, inspected, repaired or rented the product. The potential defendants in a products liability case based on a theory of negligence can include multiple parties that range from the original design to those who sell the product.
- The defendant was negligent in designing, manufacturing, supplying. Installing, inspecting, repairing, or renting the product; and
- The plaintiff was injured; and
- The defendant’s negligence substantially contributed to a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injury.
The most important portion of a negligence claim based on products liability will involve establishing that someone involved in the design, manufacturing or distribution of a product did not act reasonably in avoiding circumstances that expose anyone expected to use the product from a foreseeable risk of harm. In other words, the defendant knew or should have known about the product’s potential harmful nature and did not take reasonable measures to reduce or avoid the harm.
Breach of Warranty
A consumer in California may file suit for a products liability claim under a theory that the express warranty for the product was violated or that an implied (unwritten) warranty was violated.
Express warranties are those written guarantees that come with a product generally in fine print that makes a promise from the seller to the buyer that the goods are as described and are fits to be used for a particular purpose. For example, an express warranty for a motorcycle may state that the product is suitable for on road use only and can be used up to the posted speed limit on an interstate highway. If a consumer uses the motorcycle within its described parameters and the motorcycle has a mechanical failure causing injury to the user, the injured party may sue under a theory that the warranty allowed the consumer to assume using the motorcycle in such a way was safe.
Implied warranties are best described as guarantees provided to the consumer not expressly, but are implied to be part of the bargain when a consumer buys a product. Implied warranties can include the implied warranty of merchantability or the warranty that the goods are of average, acceptable quality and are generally fit for the ordinary purpose for which such goods are used. The second form of implied warranty includes fitness for a particular purpose or that the buyer is relying on the seller to make sure to communicate to the public that a product is fit for a particular purpose. For example, a consumer would rely on a motorcycle manufacturer who produces a street legal motorcycle that the engine is fit for the particular purpose of traveling over the minimum speed limit for extended periods of time, like any other motorist, without suffering a catastrophic mechanical failure.
However, it is important exception to an implied warranty is found when the product is marked “as is”, “with all faults” or in other words communicating to the buyer there is no implied warranty. Secondly, a plaintiff cannot recover for breach of warranty in California if he or she suffers harm by improperly using a product. For example, a consumer who uses a product in a way that clearly is not within a product’s intended use cannot recover from injuries that arise from this type of non-conforming use.
Products liability injury claims can involve a range of theories for recovery. However, it is important to state that product liability claims can be difficult to establish and generally require the assistance of legal counsel experienced in handling these types of claims. As such, it is important to consult with an experienced California products liability lawyer to assess whether you have a valid claim for compensation.