What Is Product Liability?

Product liability law enables a consumer to sue those responsible for injuries caused by defective products. This accomplishes three goals. First, the maker, manufacturer, and seller of a product are encouraged to make a product as safe as possible in order to avoid lawsuits. Second, consumers can be assured that most products sold in the marketplace are safe. Third, if a product is unsafe and injures a consumer, the consumer can receive compensation for his or her injuries. Product liability law accomplishes all three goals by making those responsible for a product liable for injuries resulting from defects in those products.

Types of Product Defects

Product liability law extends to all parts of the supply chain. Companies that design a product can be liable when that design is defective, companies that manufacture a product can be liable when its manufacturing leads to defects, and companies that make and sell a product can be liable when product warnings are defective.

Consumers can sue when a defectively designed product injures them. Generally a plaintiff needs to show that an alternative design would be safer, economical, and practical. For example, using drospirenone and ethyl estradiol in birth control pills, instead of other compounds, might qualify as defectively designed birth control pills since these chemicals have been linked to a high risk of blood clots.

In addition, consumers can sue when a defectively manufactured product injures them. For instance, if a birth control pill is made that contains too much drospirenone and not enough ethyl estradiol, that pill may be defectively manufactured. However, only that one pill would be defectively manufactured. For this reason some call defects in manufacturing the “one-in-a-million” product defect.

Finally, consumers can sue when defective warnings lead to injuries. This is the most common defect cited in drug lawsuits. A defective warning occurs when a company fails to offer adequate information about the risks associated with its product. The Food and Drug Administration regularly forces drug companies to change drug warning labels based on updated medical research. For example, a warning label may warn that women should avoid smoking while taking certain birth control pills. These defects tend to be the focus of lawsuits brought by consumer attorneys.

Types of Product Liability

You may come across phrases such as “negligence” and “strict liability” when reading about product liability. These are legal terms referring to the different theories of liability used in product liability lawsuits. Their practical difference is the standard to which defendant companies are held to in court.

Strict liability only requires proof that the defendant company’s defective product injured a consumer. No proof of fault, or blameworthiness, is required. If Bayer makes a birth control pill that increases the risk of heart attacks, then only injury from that pill must be proven.

Negligence differs in that a defendant company must also have acted negligently in order to be held liable. For example, Bayer selling a birth control pill that increases the risk of heart attacks may not be enough to prove negligence. Proof that Bayer failed to exercise a certain standard of care in selling the birth control pill would be required.