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Products Liability Law – Defective and Dangerous Products

Posted on November 4, 2018 in Uncategorized

WHAT MAKES A PRODUCT DEFECTIVE?

Clients often sit down with me at an initial meeting, describe their accident and a feature or component of a “product” and ask “do I have a case?” The answer to that question most often turns on whether the product or its component can be characterized as “defective”. A recent product recall by a large manufacturer provides an excellent learning tool on this topic.

In November, 2009, Maclaren, USA, Inc. issued a “voluntary” recall of several models of “umbrella” style baby strollers. As designed, manufactured and sold, the strollers had exposed “shear points” at the hinges. This design defect caused twelve reported cases in which infants’ fingertips were amputated in the shear point. According to news reports, these strollers were manufactured in China and distributed by Maclaren USA, Inc.

Under Pennsylvania and New Jersey law, product defects fall into three general categories:
(1) Design defects;
(2) Manufacturing defects/aka malfunctions; and
(3) Failure to warn.

The Maclaren baby stroller defect is a classic example of a design defect. A product is defective when it contains any component or feature which makes it unsafe for its intended use or anticipated misuse, or if it is lacking any feature necessary to make it safe. The exposed shear point obviously is a feature which makes the stroller unsafe. This is a classic “design defect” case.

Products are defective due to a “manufacturing defect” or “malfunction” when there is a flaw in the manufacture or construction of the particular product involved in the accident. A hypothetical example is a lightweight aluminum product such as a bicycle handlebar. Some of these products are designed to be as light as possible. The design involves portions of the handlebars which have very thin aluminum walls. These are generally safe if the manufacturing process is perfect. However, if an air bubble, grain of sand or other impurity gets into the aluminum at a stress point, this can cause a sudden, catastrophic failure of the bar. While the design is arguably sound, the presence of the flaw in the manufacturing process of the particular item makes that product defective.

Another way in which a product can be deemed defective is the failure to warn of potential dangers in the use of a product or the failure to provide the proper instructions as to the product’s safe use. An example here would be a manufacturing machine that has moving parts that can snag on loose clothing such as shirtsleeves or frayed work gloves. While such a product would likely be deemed defective in design, the failure to warn the users to avoid loose clothing and frayed gloves could also be considered a defect.

The examples of product defects are as varied as products themselves. Placing an emergency stop switch more than an arm’s length from an in-running pinch point on an industrial machine is a design defect. Designing a child’s toy with small pieces that can break off and choke a child is a design defect. Designing a farm tractor without an operator presence control that would shut the engine down if the operator left the operating station of the tractor is a design defect.

A wooden stepstool which is perfectly proper in design is defective if insufficient glue is used to assemble it. Metal scaffolding materials are defective if the welds are improper, causing the framing to fail under stress.

With the increasingly global nature of our economy, more and more products and component parts are being manufactured in foreign countries where labor costs are very low. Quality control systems in these countries and these factories are often below United States standards. With this, the incidence of manufacturing defects and malfunctions increases.

Also, big box discount stores often sell low price products that are designed and manufactured overseas. These products are often packaged with the intention that they will be sold in many countries. Sometimes, the warnings and instructions are formatted in such a way to have application in many countries which speak many languages. This can result in instructions and warnings that are very difficult to understand. This can constitute a warnings defect.

Bottom line, it is difficult to provide a universal description of a product defect. Each case, and each product, ordinarily must be evaluated on its own terms. An experienced attorney familiar with products liability law will often be able to give you a preliminary evaluation of whether a product is or is not “defective”. However, the opinion of a qualified expert witness or consultant is sometimes required before even a preliminary opinion or evaluation of a given case can be given.

For more information, visit http://www.thepanjinjurylawyers.com/practice_areas/new-jersey-products-liability-attorney-pennsylvania-unsafe-products.cfm

Product Liability History

Posted on November 1, 2018 in Uncategorized

When we purchase a product and it falls short of our expectations, it can be very disappointing, especially if a large sum of money were used to purchase the product. But what if the product caused a traumatic injury or death to a member of our family or anyone else it came in contact with? We would be devastated. What if we found out that the manufacturer or any one involved in the making or distribution of this product knew it to be un-safe but continued to make it available to the public? We would want anyone involved in getting this product in the hands of the consumer to be held responsible Products liability is an area of law whereby a consumer of a product may seek compensation for injury or property damage allegedly caused by that product. Responsible parties may include the manufacturer, contractor, assembler, distributer or store owner. There are five theories in which a products liability claim can be made. These are express warranties, implied warranties, negligence, fraud, and strict liability.

An express warranty is a promise from the seller to the buyer that the product meets industry standards and is fit for use. Statements such as,” Satisfaction guaranteed” or “This tie is 100% silk ” are express warranties.

An implied warranty arises from the sale itself without a promise from the seller. The product is of average quality and appropriate for the purpose it was intended. In the theory of negligence, one must prove that the seller did not exercise reasonable care in the manufacture or distribution of the product or give adequate instructions for safe use. Fraud is an intentional misrepresentation of the product by the seller. Strict liability holds the manufacturer responsible regardless of whether they were at fault.

The product was defective when it left the manufacturer. Laws regulating product liability can be found in article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code.

The development of product liability laws can be traced back centuries. Product liability laws originate from English common law and tort law. A tort is a wrong committed against a person or their property. Common law refers to the standards that communities followed to govern themselves. Each court case became part of the common law, and consecutive court cases were decided using the decisions of prior court cases. All states use common law except for Louisiana, which uses France’s Napoleonic code. There are no federal laws governing product liability. The earliest common law view involved the English case of Winterbottom v. Wright in 1842 (Win 42). At this time the common law asserted the “privity limitation”. Privity refers to those in direct contact with each other. Mr.Winterbottom was employed by the Postmaster General to operate the mail coach. The mail coach fell apart and Mr. Winterbottom was injured. Mr. Wright had previously repaired the mail coach for the Postmaster General. Mr. Winterbottom sued Mr.Wright but lost. Mr. Winterbottom had no direct contact (privity) with Mr. Wright, only with the Postmaster General. Mr. Wright was however responsible for the failure of the mail coach. The court ruled against Mr. Winterbottom.

10 years later there came the case of Thomas v. Winchester (Tho 52). Mr. Winchester, a druggist, mistakenly prepared a deadly medication called belladonna and sold it to Mr. Thomas as extract of dandelion. It had been mislabeled. Mr. Thomas was not harmed, but his wife was. The court set aside the privity rule and ruled in favor of Mr. Thomas. The court held that a dangerous substance, (ingesting mislabeled poison), was very different from a defective wheel as in the Winterbottom case.

More than 70 years later came the case of MacPherson v. Buick (Mac 1916). This was the first case decision that rejected the privity rule. MacPherson alleged he was driving a Buick at 8 miles per hour when the wooden wheel broke and he was injured. Buick manufactured the automobile but another manufacturer supplied the tire. The court ruled in favor of Mr. MacPherson. The court ruled that there should be a standard for negligence cases and that whether the injury is from a defective part, as in the Winterbottom case or a deadly poison, in the Thomas case, they should be treated the same.

These are only a few of the thousands of cases that have shaped modern day product liability law. The people, their family members, and others who came in contact with unsafe products paved the way for us to have safer laws.

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