Defective Product Defense

Defective Product Defense


Product Liability Lawsuit’s Defenses

Sellers and Manufacturers have legal strategies to help avoid legal liability for injuries caused by a defective or dangerous product.

Who was harmed because of the product?

A person injured by a consumer product (the plaintiff) is not automatically entitled to compensation from the product’s seller or manufacturer (the defendants). Excepting a class action suit, plaintiffs are at a practical disadvantage with the seller or manufacturer having deeper pockets, and the ability to prolong the case. This article discusses several common product liability defenses.

The type of product liability claim can influence whether a defense is effective.

Product liability claims are classified into three types: negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. The defense may be effective in defeating one type of claim but not another. A defense that the plaintiff “assumed the risk” of his own careless use of a product, for example, will almost certainly defeat a negligence or breach of warranty claim, but perhaps not a strict liability claim in some states. Each section below discusses which defenses apply to which claims.

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Plaintiff’s injury was not caused by the product’s design or defect.

A defendant can claim that other factors caused the plaintiff’s injuries. To be successful with this defense, the defendant must successfully argue that the way the injury was caused could not be realistically predicted, and thus could not be prevented by design or warned against. In other words, the defense is that the product did not actually cause the injury.

For example, if someone is burned while using a clothing iron and is shoved from behind, a judge or jury would likely rule that the shove caused the injury, not the “fact” that the iron was too hot. This defense is applicable to any type of product liability claim.

Remember that if the reason for the injury was predictable and preventable, either by design or by warning, the product will probably still be considered the ultimate cause of the injury.

The Plaintiff was careless

The application of a rule known as “contributory” or “comparative negligence” varies by state.

Essentially, if a plaintiff was negligent in some way that contributed to the accident, the amount of damages owed by the defendant or defendants will be reduced or eliminated. This rule applies to negligence and breach of warranty claims, as well as strict product liability claims in most states.

Contributory and comparative negligence issues arise when it is claimed that the plaintiff used the product in a way that was not intended or predictable. Depending on the state, misuse of a product may be treated as contributory or comparative negligence if the product was still defective in some way, or the misuse may be treated as a new (superseding) cause, releasing the defendant completely.

“Assumed Risk” by the Plaintiff

If a plaintiff is aware that the way he or she is using a product may result in an injury or malfunction, the defendant may be able to win the case on the basis of “assumption of risk.”

There is a distinction between assumption of risk and contributory or comparative negligence: when a plaintiff is negligent, he or she does not know what specific outcomes are likely. Carelessness leads to negligence, and complete disregard for a known risk leads to Assumed Risk.   Risk Assumption works as a defense in negligence and breach of warranty claims. Many states permit risk assumption in strict liability claims, but many do not.

​The Statute of Limitations had run out.

The expiration of the personal injury statute of limitations serves as a defense to all types of product liability actions. The statute of limitations specifies the time limit within which the plaintiff must appear in court and file a lawsuit; if they miss the deadline, the case will be dismissed.

Specific Warranty Breach Defenses

If the plaintiff fails to provide proper notice to the defendant or if the warranty is disclaimed, the defendant may have a Specific Warranty Breach defense.

Many of the statutes and regulations governing breach of warranty claims require the plaintiff to provide notice of the claim to the defendant prior to filing any lawsuit.

It is also possible that when the plaintiff purchased a particular product, he or she “disclaimed” the warranty, which means that the plaintiff agreed with the defendant at the time of purchase that the warranty did not apply.

A written contract stating the disclaimer is usually required for a disclaimer to be effective. As a result, a disclaimer defense is rarely used for consumer products purchased at a store or other location where there is little interaction with the seller or manufacturer.

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