Product Defects: Manufacturing, Design, and Failure to Warn

There are three main types of defects that can lead to a product
liability lawsuit.  There may be defects in the design or manufacturing of the product, or there may be a failure to warn or instruct on how to avoid danger that is specific to the product.

Manufacturing defects can occur when a product was not produced to the design specifications that the company created for the product.  In other words, a company may produce a product that was different than what they intended.  There are many things that could go wrong during the manufacturing process.  The product that was produced may be missing a part or it may have been damaged in some way while being manufactured.  It is also possible that a particular element of a product wasn’t manufactured properly causing it to be faulty.  In order to build a successful lawsuit the injured party (plaintiff) must be able to prove that there was a manufacturing defect and that that defect caused the product
to fail.

At times the failure of a product can completely destroy it, such as when a faulty toaster oven causes a fire.  In those cases it may not be possible to provide the physical evidence needed to prove there was a manufacturing defect.  In cases where the product is completely destroyed plaintiffs may use the malfunction theory in place of the physical evidence.  The malfunction theory allows the plaintiff to use circumstantial evidence—evidence that requires an inference to be made to draw the necessary conclusion—to show that an unknown manufacturing defect was the most likely reason for the product to malfunction.  Under the malfunction theory the plaintiff must show that the harm that was caused doesn’t normally happen if a product defect isn’t present.  They must also demonstrate that the defect was most likely present in the product when it left the control of the manufacturer or the vendor.  In addition, in order to build a successful suit using the malfunction theory the plaintiff must show that the defect didn’t come from other reasonably possible sources outside of the manufacturer.  The malfunction theory is most successfully used in situations where the product that malfunctioned was recently purchased and where an expert can testify to exclude any other causes for the product malfunction.

When mistakes are made in the design process they can lead to defects that occur in all the products that are manufactured to the flawed specifications.  The typical way that a design flaw is measured is based on the industry standards of the particular product.  If a product hasn’t been designed in accordance with the industry standard then this can be used as evidence that the product design was defective.  When design defects occur they result in multiple, and sometimes many, defective products.  Because of this, design defects are generally easier to demonstrate than manufacturing defects.  Also, in situations where a design defect caused a product to malfunction and it destroyed the physical evidence it can still be shown that the product line had a defective design.

Manufacturers also have an obligation to give appropriate warnings as to the inherent risks that are involved with using their products.  If a person is injured in the use of a product, and that injury should have been reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer, then the manufacturer had a duty to inform the consumer about the danger.  Generally, a manufacturer has the obligation to warn the consumer about both the existence of the danger and how to avoid it.  If the manufacturer doesn’t do that and a person is injured in a way that could have been prevented by a proper warning and instruction then it is likely that the injured party could bring a successful product liability lawsuit.


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