When Is a Product Legally Defective?
A plaintiff seeking recovery under a products liability (or “strict liability”) theory must prove that his or her injuries were caused by a defective product.
The question, then, is “what makes a product defective?”
Products liability law recognizes three types of legally actionable defects:
— Design defects
— Manufacturing defects
— Warning defects
Simply receiving injuries while using a product–even if the use was in accordance with packaging or manufacturer’s instructions–does not mean the product was legally “defective.” Manufacturers do not always have to take a potential user’s abilities or special sensitivities into account.
DESIGN DEFECTS ARE INHERENT IN THE PRODUCT’S DESIGN OR PROTOTYPE
A “design defect” refers to a problem in the way a product is designed, rather than the way it is manufactured. Products with design defects may be inherently dangerous, or cause injury, even when manufactured in precisely the manner the designer/manufacturer intended.
The law recognizes two tests for establishing a design defect in a consumer product: the “risk-benefit” test and the “consumer expectation test.” This blog will examine the tests in more detail later this week; for now, it’s enough to note that design defects are generally found (if at all) in products which do not operate safely, and thereby create an unreasonable risk of injury, even when manufactured as designed and used as intended.
However, some products are deemed so important to society that the law is unwilling to call them “defective by design” despite inherent risks. In cases involving these products, courts will not consider manufacturers liable for “design defect” liability even if the product is inherently dangerous as designed.
For example: a shower door manufactured from standard glass, rather than safety glass, might be deemed “defective” if the type of glass used presented an unreasonable risk of injury due to shattering. The plaintiff’s claim would also have to meet the other requirements for a products liability action, of course–and individuals injured by defective products should always consult an experienced attorney promptly to ensure proper treatment of potential claims.
MANUFACTURING DEFECTS OCCUR DURING THE PRODUCTION PROCESS
“Manufacturing defects” are defects in a product which result from or occur during the manufacturing process. In order to have a manufacturing defect, the product must differ from the manufacturer’s design, from apparently identical products, and/or from the manufacturer’s intentions at the time the product leaves the defendant’s control.
As an example, consider a shower door made of glass.
If, during the manufacturing process, a certain number of shower doors were produced with unexpected (or unplanned) air bubbles that rendered the doors more likely to shatter when exposed to heat than other doors of the same design, those doors might be considered legally “defective.” If the manufacturer failed to discover the defect, and sold the doors to consumers, the manufacturer might be liable under a strict liability theory if the doors subsequently broke and injured consumers.
The plaintiff would have to prove that a flaw in the manufacturing process made the door that caused the injuries different from doors manufactured in accordance with the usual design or specifications for this manufacturer. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the door which caused the injuries was manufactured differently than the “standard” doors of its type.
“WARNING DEFECTS” ARISE WHEN A DANGEROUS PRODUCT LACKS A PROPER WARNING LABEL OR INSTRUCTION
Failure to include a proper warning, or proper instructions for use, on a dangerous product may render the product legally defective.
For example: drugs to treat various illnesses normally require both instructions for proper dosage/use and a warning about potential side effects. The instructions tell consumers how to use the product, and the warning labels inform them of potentially dangerous (or, in some cases, merely inconvenient) side effects of taking the drug.
Failure to include either a proper warning (where warranted) or proper instructions for use of the product (again, when required) can result in the product being deemed “defective” if the product’s nature requires appropriate warnings and/or instructions to render it reasonably safe to use.