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Product Liability

Thousands of people are injured every year by dangerous and defective products. The laws governing responsibility for product defects are different from ordinary liability law. These laws are based upon a principle that if a manufacturer and/or designer of a product create a product which is defective and the defect renders it unreasonably dangerous; these entities will be responsible for the damages caused by their dangerous products.

Product liability means that a manufacturer or retailer can be held liable for producing or selling a defective product. Responsibility for a product defect lies with all sellers or distributors of a product, including the manufacturer and component manufacturers, wholesalers, and retail stores. Some state laws provide that wholesalers and retailers cannot be held liable unless the product was manufactured to specifications provided by the seller, or unless the seller modified the product.

There is no federal product liability law and states have different product liability statutes. Generally, these statutes are modeled on the Uniform Commercial Code and require products to meet the consumer's expectations. These expectations obviously include the expectation that a product not be defective or dangerous.

There are three theories of product liability:

  • Negligence. A manufacturer can be shown to be negligent if the design or manufacture of their product is clearly unsafe, or if it can be shown that the manufacturer or seller did not take adequate and reasonable precaution to prevent injury caused by their product.
  • Strict liability. This theory does not require proof of negligence, but rather proof that the product was defective and that the defective nature of the product rendered it unreasonably dangerous to a foreseeable user.
  • Breach of warranty. A product's manufacturer or seller can be held liable for breach of warranty if the product is unsafe or not fit to be used as intended. This can occur if the product was incorrectly designed, assembled, or if the components do not perform properly

In the past, recovery of damages required a contractual relationship between a product's manufacturer or seller and the injured person. However, most states no longer require this relationship and you do not have to be the product's owner in order to recover damages. All foreseeable users of a defective and unreasonably dangerous product may be entitled to recover damages, even if they did not purchase the product. This would include members of a household as well as employees.

For strict liability to apply, a sale of the product must be made as part of a regular business. Therefore, while a manufacturer or retailer can be found liable, someone who sells a product at a garage sale who modified the product before it was sold may not be responsible for a defective product.

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