Product Liability: What is it and how to establish a claim

There are many people who are injured every year due to the purchase and use of dangerous or defective products. In normal tort suits the elements of negligence usually need to be proven in order to bring a successful claim. However, product liability law is different than normal personal injury law. Often times the person who is injured by a defective product isn’t able to show negligence during the manufacturing or design process. In states that have adopted strict product liability, such as New Mexico, the law doesn’t require the plaintiff to prove the specific act (or omission) that caused the defect in the product.

Any party that is involved in the sale of a defective product is potentially liable for injuries caused by it. This means that the manufacturer, distributor, and retailer could all possibly be held liable for injuries caused by the defect in the product. So even though the distributor or the seller may not have been involved in creating the defective product they could be assigned fault by the law because of their involvement in getting the dangerous product in the hands of the consumer. In many states if a retailer or distributor lost a product liability lawsuit they could, in a separate suit, seek to have the damages paid by the manufacturer of the defective product.

In order to establish a product liability claim there are two elements that must be satisfied. The first is that the product itself was inherently defective. The second element is that the defect in the product caused the damage or the injury. In order to show that a product was inherently defective, the injured party (plaintiff) must be able to prove the defect that injured them existed in the product when it left the control of the party they are suing. This means that if the plaintiff is bringing suit against the manufacturer then they must be able to show that the defect that caused their injury existed in the product when it left the manufacturer and didn’t develop while in the possession of the distributor or the retailer (or after it was purchased). The same goes for bringing suit against the distributor or the retailer. The plaintiff must be able to show that the defect that injured them existed while the product was in the control of the particular party against whom they are bringing suit.

The second element that must be shown is that the defect in the product caused the plaintiff’s injury. This means that whatever defect has been shown in the product had to actually cause the injury. It is not enough to show that a product is defective and that the product caused the injury. For example, if a car had a defective gas pedal that caused unintended acceleration and a driver was injured in a collision that resulted from the faulty gas pedal then there is a good chance that this element could be proven. On the contrary, if a vehicle had the same faulty gas pedal but a person was injured from slamming the car door on their thumb then they would have great difficulty proving that the defect caused this injury.

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