Injured by a Defective Product: Who Is Liable?

Several parties, including the manufacturer, sub-manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, are liable for defective products under the strict product liability legal theory. Product liability is an area of law in which all parties responsible for bringing a product to market may carry liability when an injury due to design, manufacturing, or warning defect occurs.

Development of Strict Product Liability

Before strict product liability, the plaintiffs who were injured by a defective product bore the evidentiary burden to prove which company in the product supply chain was responsible for the defect causing their injury. Plaintiffs had to identify and sue every possible company, propound discovery on all the companies, and review their responses to the discovery to ascertain the defect’s source. If the plaintiff could not establish which company was responsible, then every company could file motions to get dismissed from the case as the plaintiff failed to establish their fault factually.

Strict product liability shifted the evidentiary burden from the plaintiff to the companies. Once the plaintiff establishes two facts: (1) an injury occurred and (2) the type of defect that influenced the injury – the burden shifts to the companies to prove they were not responsible for the defect.

The following are the types of defects that parties may be held liable for:

Design Defect

This refers to a problem with the design of the product. Specifically, the product was erroneously designed, and even though it is manufactured to specification, it is still dangerous for the average consumer due to its flawed design.

Manufacturing Defect

A manufacturing defect refers to a problem in the manufacturing process. The product is designed safely; however, an error occurred during the manufacturing or distribution process that caused this particular product to deviate from others like it. The defect caused the injury. The same problem arises with suppliers who provide primary manufacturers with defective parts.

Warning Defects

These refer to an inadequate or inaccurate warning label by the company. Companies are required to warn users against reasonably anticipated uses for their products that were not intended. For example, companies must warn consumers against using chairs as stepstools or from using a water gun to spray one another in the face. The chair was not designed to be used as a stepstool and therefore is not adequately stable. The water pressure in the water gun is too high to be sprayed in someone’s face and could cause injury to the eyes or other sensitive facial areas.

Manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and retailers are all potentially liable for product defects.

Endorser Liability

In some situations, celebrities and regular people who receive compensation for endorsing a product could be liable for injuries resulting from the use of that product. The Federal Trade Commission requires any person who receives compensation (money, free stuff, and other benefits) to disclose those benefits when endorsing a product or service. People who endorse products for free – like leaving an approving comment on the product page – are not liable for injuries. However, endorsers may be liable if they receive compensation for their endorsement and liable for subsequent injuries related to the product.