Product Liability and Design Defects

Purchasing products that don’t function as we expect can be frustrating. Frustration can quickly turn to terror when that item causes severe injury, disability, substantial property damage, or death.

Product liability laws hold manufacturers and sellers accountable for placing those defective products into consumers’ hands. Product liability covers everything from simple mistakes in packaging to flaws in an item’s design that cause harm. If you’ve used those items and have been harmed, you may have a case for a product defect lawsuit

There are three types of defects that might cause injury and lead to manufacturer or supplier liability:

  • Manufacturing defects occur during a product’s assembly.

  • Marketing defects include flaws in how a product is marketed. These flaws include labeling, inadequate safety warnings, or insufficient instructions.

  • Design defects include flaws in how the product was designed

The third type will be the focus of this post.

What is Defective Design?

Simply put, a design defect is a type of product defect that is “built into” the design of the product. This causes the product to be dangerous even while being used properly. This defect is not limited to one damaged or broken item but is found in every single product of that type. These consistent defects put each user of that product at risk of harm.

Defective design issues that may result in a product liability case include:

  • An electric razor that shocks you when you power it on

  • A top-heavy SUV with a narrow wheelbase that makes it prone to rollovers

  • A safety guard on a power tool that does not prevent harm

  • Products made with toxic paint or materials

  • Unstable furniture that can’t support weight

When a product has a defective design, the user of that product, or anyone in the vicinity of the product, can be at potential risk.

Examples of Design Defect Cases

Product liability is the area of law that allows an injured victim to file a lawsuit due to a defective product. This law states that one of the reasons a product can be flawed is that it has a design defect. Design defects result in more faulty products than manufacturing defects because the defect occurred in the development phase.

A circular saw with defective safety guards may lead to a product liability case.

One example of a case would be a hand amputation or other severe damage caused by a tool. The injury may happen because the plastic hand guard had openings that were too large, allowing a person’s hand to slip through easily. The guard wasn’t designed to properly prevent that injury.

Another example of a product liability lawsuit would be a vehicle designed with faulty brakes. In this case, the vehicle may not slow down or stop while the driver attempts to respond to changes in road conditions.

Alabama has an extended manufacturer’s liability doctrine. It states that a plaintiff must prove the product reached them without substantial alteration. The plaintiff must also prove that an injury or property damage happened because of the product’s defective condition. That would make the product dangerous. The plaintiff may also claim that the manufacturer knew the potential for danger and failed to warn users.

The Role of Refactoring in Product Design

Refactoring is a critical and often underestimated process in product design. It involves the continuous evaluation and improvement of a product’s design and functionality, with the aim of enhancing its safety, usability, and overall performance. In the context of product liability and design defects, refactoring plays a crucial role in preventing issues or product failure, ensuring product compliance, and mitigating potential legal challenges.

The Significance of Refactoring:

Preventing Defects: Refactoring is a proactive measure to prevent defects before they occur. By continually assessing and enhancing the product’s design, companies can identify and eliminate potential issues early in the development process.

Reducing Legal Liability: Refactoring is a powerful tool in reducing the risk of legal action related to design defects. When a company can demonstrate its commitment to improving product safety and quality through refactoring, it can bolster its defense in the event of a lawsuit.

Enhancing Reputation: A commitment to product improvement and safety through refactoring enhances a company’s reputation. It demonstrates responsibility and dedication to customer well-being.

Customer Satisfaction: Products that undergo refactoring tend to have fewer defects and better usability, leading to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Liability of Manufacturers for Design Defects

Manufacturers play an important role in ensuring the safety and quality of the products they bring to the market. When a design defect results in harm to consumers, manufacturers can be held liable for their legal obligations.

Legal Obligations of Manufacturers in Design Defects:

Manufacturers have a fundamental duty to design products that are reasonably safe for their intended use. This obligation stems from a responsibility to protect consumers from harm and injury. It requires manufacturers to exercise due care in the design, testing, and production of their products.

Holding Manufacturers Liable for Injuries:

When a design defect in a product leads to injuries or damages, manufacturers can be held accountable for the following reasons:

Negligence: If the manufacturer’s design process is found to be negligent and below the expected standard of care, they can be held liable for injuries resulting from the defect.

Strict Liability: One of the key legal doctrines in design defect cases is strict liability. This principle places the burden of proof on the manufacturer, making them responsible for injuries caused by their defective product, regardless of negligence. Strict liability simplifies the process for injured parties seeking compensation.

Strict Liability and Design Defects:

Strict liability is particularly significant in design defect cases. It shifts the focus from proving manufacturer negligence to establishing the existence of a defect and its causal relationship with the injury. This legal principle is designed to protect consumers and promote product safety by holding manufacturers accountable for their products.

Examples of Manufacturers Held Accountable:

Several past cases illustrate how manufacturers have been held accountable for design defects. One notable example is the Ford Pinto case in the 1970s. The Pinto’s flawed gas tank design resulted in fires in rear-end collisions, causing injuries and deaths. Ford faced extensive legal action and public backlash, ultimately leading to design changes and settlements with affected parties.

Another example is the tobacco industry’s litigation history, where manufacturers were held accountable for concealing the health risks of their products. Legal action compelled manufacturers to pay significant sums in damages and led to greater public awareness of the risks associated with tobacco.

Manufacturers’ liability for design defects is a critical element of consumer protection and product safety. It obligates manufacturers to prioritize the well-being of consumers and deliver products that meet safety standards. When design defects lead to harm, the legal system provides a pathway for affected parties to seek justice and compensation. Strict liability, as a legal concept, reinforces the commitment to safety and accountability, making it easier for individuals to hold manufacturers responsible for their defective products. By understanding and enforcing these legal principles, we can collectively work towards a safer and more just marketplace.

Legal Steps in a Design Defect Case

When a product is associated with a design defect that has caused harm to consumers, pursuing a legal case is a crucial step to seek justice and compensation. This process involves several distinct legal steps to establish liability and hold responsible parties accountable for the design defect. Here’s an overview of the typical legal steps involved in a design defect case:

1. Consultation with an Attorney:

The initial and most crucial step is to schedule a consultation with an experienced product liability attorney. During this consultation, they will assess the details of the case, including the nature of the defect, the injuries sustained, and potential liable parties. They can advise you on the merits of your case and guide you through the legal process.

2. Investigation and Gathering Evidence:

Working with your attorney, a thorough investigation is conducted to gather evidence. This may include collecting product documentation, conducting interviews, obtaining expert opinions, and reviewing any available records related to the design, manufacturing, and safety testing of the product.

3. Determining Liability:

Based on the gathered evidence, your attorney will determine which parties may be liable for the design defect. This could include the product manufacturer, designers, distributors, or retailers. Establishing liability is a crucial aspect of your case.

4. Filing a Lawsuit:

If the evidence supports your claim, your lawyers will file a lawsuit against the liable parties. This initiates the legal proceedings, and the defendant(s) will be served with a copy of the complaint, which outlines the allegations and the relief sought.

5. Discovery Phase:

During the discovery phase, both parties exchange information, documents, and evidence related to the case. Depositions of witnesses and experts may also take place during this phase.

6. Expert Testimony:

Expert witnesses are often crucial in design defect cases. Experts can provide opinions on the product’s design flaws, safety standards, and the causal relationship between the defect and the injuries suffered. Their testimony can be influential in court.

7. Negotiation or Settlement:

Throughout the legal process, there may be opportunities for negotiation or settlement discussions to resolve the claim. Your attorney will work diligently to secure a fair and reasonable settlement, considering both the cost and potential benefits, on your behalf. Many cases are resolved through settlements to avoid protracted litigation.

8. Trial:

If a settlement is not reached, the case proceeds to trial. During the trial, both parties present their arguments and evidence to a judge and/or jury. The judge or jury will ultimately decide the outcome of the case.

9. Verdict and Appeals:

Once the trial is complete, a verdict is rendered. If you win the case, you are awarded compensation. The defendant may choose to appeal, which can extend the legal process.

10. Enforcement of Judgment:

If you receive a favorable verdict or reach a settlement, the responsible parties will be obligated to pay the compensation ordered by the court. Your attorney will assist in enforcing the judgment.

Legal steps in a design defect case can be complex and may vary based on the specific circumstances of each case. It’s crucial to have a qualified attorney who specializes in product liability to guide you through this process and advocate for your rights and interests.

Here’s Why You Need Help

Product liability claims are quite complex. They require intricate details to establish manufacturer negligence. This includes expert witness testimony, proving the plaintiff wasn’t negligent, and demonstrating that any harm caused was because of the product’s defective condition.

If you have been injured due to a defective product, time is of the essence. Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney at the law office of Timberlake & League can help you explore your legal options.

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