You’ve heard the horror stories. Someone buys a sealed jar of pasta sauce only to find shards of glass in it. Someone else buys a crib for their child only to find out the hinges can cause serious injuries. Another person gets a heater for their garage, only to get carbon monoxide poisoning because the instructions were incorrect.
These types of defective product stories are all too common. All it takes is one mistake or mix-up during manufacturing or the supply chain for a product to wind up in your home with a potentially deadly defect. California legislators have ensured you have rights if a product hurts you.
Understanding Defective Product Liability
California applies strict liability to product liability claims. This is the idea that a manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, or another provider of products is responsible for harm caused by those products even if it was not negligent. This means that even if a company uses quality assurance processes to avoid putting consumers at risk, it is still liable for injuries caused by its defective products.
Under the strict liability umbrella, there are three main types of product liability in California:
- Manufacturing defects: A flaw within a specific product due to an error during the manufacturing process that would not otherwise be present. You may file a manufacturing defect claim for problems like a ladder with an incorrectly attached hinge or food contaminated with inedible substances.
- Design defects: A product whose fundamental design is dangerous, such as a gun without a functional safety switch or a toy intended for children that is easy to swallow.
- Failure to warn: Some products will always pose a risk, and manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers are responsible for warning consumers about these issues. For example, the packaging must warn about the explosive nature of a lighter or the fact that a food contains nuts, and failing to do so is considered a defect.
In each of these situations, the product can cause harm to the consumer. Regardless of whether the defect was intentional or caused by negligence, the injured party can pursue compensation for their losses.
Manufacturers are not the only party that may be held accountable, either. In some cases, a defect is caused or compounded by the actions of another party. Suppose a manufacturer produces a line of peanut-free foods, and one lot is accidentally contaminated by peanuts. The manufacturer issues a recall, but a grocery store sells the contaminated food anyway. In that case, the manufacturer and retailer share liability for any injuries or deaths caused by the contaminated food.
The Risks of Defective Products
Allergic reactions are just one example of possible risks posed by product defects. There have been tens of thousands of successful product liability lawsuits in the past several decades demonstrating the true range of harm a defect can cause.
One of the best examples of product liability is the case Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants. It is often dismissed as a “frivolous” lawsuit when, in fact, it is an excellent demonstration of the product liability system working as intended.
In 1994, Stella Liebeck successfully sued McDonald’s for serving its coffee as hot as 190 degrees Fahrenheit, just 22 degrees shy of boiling. Liebeck spilled the coffee on herself and suffered catastrophic third-degree burns over her groin and thighs, requiring skin grafts and two years of medical treatment. She initially attempted to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses, but the corporation refused. When she took the case to trial, she was awarded $160,000 in compensation for her medical costs and an additional $2.7 million in punitive damages. The case also led McDonald’s to serve its coffee at temperatures less likely to seriously harm consumers if spilled in a moving car.
Other examples of successful product liability claims include:
- General Motors gas tank faults: In 1999, car manufacturer GM was successfully sued for $4.9 billion in punitive damages after it was determined that the company was aware of defects in the 1979 Chevrolet Malibu gas tank that caused six people life-threatening burns when they exploded.
- Monsanto’s weedkiller cancer risk: Monsanto has lost several lawsuits based on the claim that the weedkiller Roundup causes cancer, requiring the company to pay billions in damages.
Fighting Defective Product Injury Claims
If you have been hurt by a dangerous or defective product, you have the right to seek compensation from the liable parties. After you get medical care, the first thing you should do is consult with an experienced personal injury attorney like Reuben J. Doing. Your lawyer will help you:
- Determine which parties may be liable for your injuries. They will walk you through the incident to determine whether the manufacturer is solely responsible for your damages or if liability is shared among other parties, such as wholesalers and retailers.
- Collect evidence for your case. They will help you collect evidence like the defective product, medical bills and records, proof of lost wages, and more to build your case.
- Submit your complaint to the court and the defendants. Your lawyer will draft and submit the necessary documents to begin your case.
- Manage negotiations with the defendants. If the defendants are willing to settle, your attorney will negotiate with them on your behalf to help you achieve the best possible settlement.
- Represent you in court if your case goes to trial. If the defendants will not settle, your lawyer will fight for you in court to help you achieve justice.
At the Law Office of Reuben J. Doing, your case is our top priority. We care about every client and work hard to ensure you recover just compensation for your injuries. Learn more about how we can help you seek justice for the losses you’ve suffered by scheduling your consultation with our San Carlos product liability law firm today.