When we purchase a product from a retail store, online, or through a catalog, we all expect to receive a product that is fit for its intended purposes and one that is not defective or extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, that is not always the case; products that are unreasonably dangerous for their intended or foreseeable uses are often introduced. However, you do not have to be left on the hook for the injuries you suffered due to a defective product. Our Fort Smith, AR product injury lawyers can fight to obtain compensation for your injuries, suffering, and pain.
When someone is injured while using a product, they might not understand their legal rights. Many people will often blame themselves for the accident. However, an unknown design defect or a poorly worded warning label could open the seller or manufacturer up to liability. Additionally, a product liability claim could be part of an ordinary personal injury case. For example, you could have been injured in a car accident caused by a reckless motorist. However, if your airbag failed to function, you could have an additional claim against the manufacturer or the dealer that sold you the vehicle.
Product liability cases are complicated because of the various legal concepts involved. Knowing the right course of action requires experience and an understanding of the applicable law. Our Fort Smith, AR product liability attorneys have the resources coupled with decades of experience to handle the most difficult cases. Call our law offices at (479) 316-0438 to review your options.
When Can a Lawsuit for a Defective Product be Brought?
Product liability suits proceed under a theory of strict liability. In contrast to negligence actions, this means that you do not have to prove intent to harm. Instead, the focus is on the product and whether it is unreasonably dangerous due to a defect in manufacturing, design, or failure to warn. The product must have been utilized as intended or a foreseeable use and the injury must have resulted from the defect. Finally, the product must not have been subjected to substantial alterations or modifications since its sale. Effectively showing and proving each of these legally required elements can require the experienced hand of a seasoned attorney.
What is a Design Defect?
A design defect occurs when a product is manufactured as intended, but there is an error or imperfection that makes the product unreasonably dangerous. To better understand what a design defect is, let’s consider a hypothetical new soda bottle design. This design utilizes 20% less glass while holding the same amount of soda. The bottles are manufactured according to specifications, but when individuals take a drink from the bottle, the neck often snaps off leaving behind pieces of extremely sharp glass that results in severe lacerations. These injuries are the result of the design process. Other design defects could include:
- A blender that is designed to operate on the wrong voltage.
- An office chair design that can collapse unexpectedly.
- A vehicle that is designed so that a minor rear collision results in a fuel tank explosion.
What is a Manufacturing Defect?
In contrast to a design defect, a manufacturing defect occurs when the manufactured product deviates from the blueprints or design. Thus the defect is introduced when the product is created. So that we can better understand a manufacturing defect, let’s again return to our example of the improved soda bottle. This bottle is still designed to use 20% glass and it would function as intended if it was manufactured according to specifications. However, in the manufacturing process, the machine ends up using 30% less glass. By using 30% less glass, the bottles can spontaneously shatter while in storage. This defect would be one due to the manufacturing process.
Warning or Labeling Defect
Manufacturers have a duty to warn consumers regarding hidden dangers regarding their products. Additionally, they have a responsibility to provide information on how to safely use the product. When a product requires a warning label, it should be plainly written, clearly visible, and in the vicinity of danger if applicable. Actual requirements might vary. Depending on the product, some warnings must be printed on the product or it must have a brightly colored label.
Liability in Fort Smith Product Liability Cases
To prevail in a personal injury claim, a plaintiff usually must establish that another party’s conduct was negligent. A product liability claim is similar. However, there are three paths to pursue compensation. Depending on the circumstances, our Fort Smith, AR product liability lawyers will try to establish negligence, breach of warranty, or strict liability.
Breach of Warranty
Breach of warranty is grounded in contract law. When you purchase a product, a contract exists between you and the seller of the product. A contract, or warranty, could be either expressed or implied.
An expressed warranty is a direct statement made by the seller. For example, “30,000 miles between tire changes.” Conversely, an implied warranty is imposed by law. When our Fort Smith product liability attorneys are looking at implied warranties, they are focused on fitness for a particular purpose and merchantability. Fitness for a particular purpose means that the product will function as intended. Merchantability refers to a product’s adherence to industry standards. For instance, you would expect a car to have brakes.
Because breach of warranty requires a direct relationship between the parties, the manufacturer is typically immune from an injury claim. Additionally, there are often binding limitations written into the contract that protect the seller from liability.
Most personal injury cases are based on negligence. In legal terms, negligence refers to conduct that fails to adhere to a reasonable standard of care. If an entity or manufacturer’s negligence causes an injury due to a defective product, the negligent party could be held liable. Unlike a breach of warranty claim, liability is not limited to the seller. Depending on the circumstances, a wide range of parties could be held accountable, including the designer, the manufacturer, the distributor, or any other party that contributed to the defect.
One of the challenges in a products liability case based on negligence is finding what party was at fault and gathering evidence to establish their negligence. For example, if an airbag fails to deploy, an intensive investigation would be required to determine if the defect resulted from a design flaw, a manufacturing error, or even a mistake made by a driver’s local mechanic.
The third legal theory to base a product liability claim on is strict liability. Just like negligence, a strict liability claim allows an injured individual to seek compensation from the party responsible for the defect. However, unlike negligence, the plaintiff does not have to establish whose conduct was negligent. To prevail in a strict liability claim, a plaintiff only needs to prove that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous.
Strict liability is not limited to the seller or manufacturer – any party within the chain of distribution could be held liable. This includes the seller, manufacturer, or distributor. Typically, this lowers the cost of litigation, especially in cases where the manufacturer is overseas. An injured plaintiff could sue the local distributor of the product without filing a claim against the manufacturer.
Damages Available in a Fort Smith Products Liability Lawsuit
If a defective product injures you, you could lose time at work and find yourself with a mountain of medical bills and expenses. You are entitled to recover compensatory damages in a lawsuit. These damages include your economic and non-economic losses. For example, you could recover the cost of any medical treatment you have received and any additional treatment or therapy that could be required in the future. Likewise, you could recover your lost wages and any income you will lose because of your injury.
Non-economic damages refer to the physical pain and emotional pain you have suffered. Depending on the severity of your injury, these damages could be significant. For instance, if you lost the use of your hand because of a defect in a power tool, you could be compensated for the negative impact your injury will have on the rest of your life.
In some cases, a judge or jury could award punitive damages. Punitive damages are not related to your injury – they are designed to punish the defendant. For example, if a car manufacturer was purposefully not addressing a design defect because of a cost concern, a judge could award substantial punitive damages to stop any such conduct in the future.
Contact Our Fort Smith, Arkansas Product Liability Lawyers for a Free Consultation
A failure to warn claim can arise when a product is put into the stream of commerce without adequate instructions, warnings or precautions to prevent foreseeable misuse. An over-warning claim can arise if warnings are so numerous as to dilute the importance of essential warnings so that they are disregarded. If you have been injured by a defective product, you may be entitled to compensation. For your free and confidential defective product consultation, call our law offices at (479) 316-0438.