Product liability is the area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make products available to the public are held responsible for the injuries those products cause. Although the word “product” has broad connotations, product liability as an area of law is traditionally limited to products in the form of tangible personal property.
Theories of liability
In the United States, the claims most commonly associated with product liability are negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, and various consumer protection claims. The majority of product liability laws are determined at the state level and vary widely from state to state. Each type of product liability claim requires different elements to be proven to present a successful claim.
Types of liability
Section 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability distinguishes between three major types of product liability claims:
- manufacturing defect,
- design defect,
- a failure to warn (also known as marketing defects).
However, in most states, these are not legal claims in and of themselves, but are pleaded in terms of the theories mentioned above. For example, a plaintiff might plead negligent failure to warn or strict liability for defective design.
- Manufacturing defects are those that occur in the manufacturing process and usually involve poor-quality materials or shoddy workmanship.
- Design defects occur where the product design is inherently dangerous or useless (and hence defective) no matter how carefully manufactured; this may be demonstrated either by showing that the product fails to satisfy ordinary consumer expectations as to what constitutes a safe product, or that the risks of the product outweigh its benefits.
- Failure-to-warn defects arise in products that carry inherent nonobvious dangers which could be mitigated through adequate warnings to the user, and these dangers are present regardless of how well the product is manufactured and designed for its intended purpose.