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How Product Liability Claims Work

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 17 Jun 2010 |
Product Liability Manufacturer Fault

When a manufacturer releases a product to market they have a duty to ensure that the product is safe for use by consumers. If a product is unsafe, whether by virtue of its manufacture, composition, unsuitability for use, or because of inadequate instructions (amongst others), then the manufacturer, designer or sometimes the distributor will be liable for that fault.

Who is to Blame?

Previously, it was necessary to show that the manufacturer is the one to blame for the defect and to prove that they were at fault. However, it is now possible for anyone injured by a product to make a claim, regardless of whether they were the original purchaser or not. Further there is now no requirement to prove the negligence of the manufacturer at any stage. This is how product liability claims differ from other personal injury claims, as other claims require there to have been some negligent act or omission on the part of the defendant in order to make a successful claim.

What Are Products?

‘Products’ for the purposes of product liability claims also include food and drink produce. Other products include consumer goods, pharmaceutical products and ‘bio-medical’ products, which are devices implanted into humans e.g. hip replacements, breast implants and pacemakers.

Product liability claims typically fall into four distinct categories. These are:

Manufacturing faults; in which the product is defective as a result of something that occurred, or failed to occur during the manufacturing process.

Failure adequately to warn; a product does not supply the consumer with any or adequate warnings about the correct or safe use of the product. This can include instructions, information on packaging and information in advertisements.

Design faults; although the product may be manufactured exactly to specifications there is a problem or fault with the design. Because of this, the product is inherently dangerous.

Negligent Surveillance; this is when a manufacturer, on learning that one or more of its products is faulty, fails to warn consumers about the problem with its products – either by issuing inadequate warnings or by not issuing warnings at all.

It is important to note that defective products are not merely of poor quality; indeed there are a number of issues that a court will consider when determining product liability claims.

Multi-Party Claims

Although each product liability claim is different, there are some situations in which many people are injured in the same or similar ways by the same defect. In these circumstances, there may be a multi-party action with many people all suing the manufacturer for injury caused by their defective products. If this happens, it is common for a solicitor’s firm to take on multiple clients who all have the same or similar claims.

Proving Product Liability

In product liability claims the court will consider all the circumstances of the case, including the way in which the product was advertised and marketed to consumers, the warnings and cautions supplied with it and the intended purpose of the product, as well as the time when the product was supplied to the recipient. However, some cases are provable on a strict liability basis. In these cases, there is no need to prove negligence: the mere fact that the manufacturer supplied the product is enough to prove liability. This is the case with e.g. pharmaceutical drugs.

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