Product manufacturers have a duty to ensure the products they make perform as advertised and intended and pose no threat to the health or well-being of end users through normal use. Under California law, product manufacturers, and every other entity in a supply chain from production to consumer, can be liable for any damages to consumers. Unlike personal injury lawsuits in which plaintiffs must prove negligence, plaintiffs in product liability claims do not have to prove that a manufacturer or other supply chain entity was negligent, only that the product in question is indeed defective and the defect caused the plaintiff’s damages.
Types of Defective Products
California’s strict liability law for defective products extends to all consumer products. The only exception is for items that are “inherently unsafe” or obviously dangerous products. This could include knives, firearms, alcohol, butter, sugar, and castor oil. These products are dangerous and even deadly in some circumstances, and it’s vital for end users to understand the inherent risks of using such products. For example, a firearm is deadly in some situations, but that does not mean it is defective.
All other products must meet appropriate standards for consumer use. This means manufacturers must use consistent production processes and raw materials to ensure consumer safety. Product manufacturers must also include instructions for proper use of their products and any required safety indicators and warnings for hazards of normal use. Defective products generally fall into one of three categories:
Products with defective designs have an inherent flaw that affects all units of the product.
There was some problem during the manufacturing process leading to the defect, or the product somehow deviated from the manufacturer’s intended design. This could include a faulty batch of raw materials, a damaged assembly line machine, or improper assembly during production. These defects often only affect certain units or lots of units, and the manufacturer will likely issue a recall to have these items returned.
The manufacturer did not include adequate instructions for use, safety warnings, or did not accurately represent the product in marketing materials. Some products like cars, kitchen appliances, or other potentially dangerous items require specialized safety indicators.
In some cases, liability may not fall to the original manufacturer if the product passed through other entities in the supply chain to the end consumer. For example, if a manufacturer distributes products to another company for packaging or assembly, the lawsuit may uncover that the second company is liable for the defect that harmed the plaintiff.
Comparative Negligence and Securing Compensation
California also follows a comparative negligence law, meaning plaintiffs may lose some of their compensation if the court deems them partially at fault for their damages. For example, if a consumer uses a product outside of its intended range of uses and a defect in the product causes an injury, the manufacturer will still absorb liability for the defect, but they may argue that the consumer’s improper use contributed to his or her injuries. If the court finds a plaintiff is 25% responsible for his injuries, he or she will lose 25% of the case award.
Plaintiffs who succeed in product liability claims can claim compensation for all damages resulting from the defective product. This can include medical expenses for treating injuries caused by the product, property damage to the plaintiff’s home or personal belongings, lost income from time missed from work, and pain and suffering for the physical and emotional pain caused by the defective product.