We’ve all heard the story that started the nation’s product liability lawsuit train rolling full speed ahead. 79-year-old Stella Liebeck’s take-out coffee spill drew attention to the fact that not every product has enough warnings and that those deficiencies can be dangerous. Liebeck’s lawsuit alleged that McDonald’s coffee was hot enough to cause serious third-degree burns and that customers were not made aware of this fact. A jury awarded her close to $3 million in punitive damages, and a generation of product liability lawsuits was birthed.
Liebeck only wanted enough to cover her medical bills, but McDonald’s wouldn’t agree. Jurors called the preponderance of evidence against the company, including hundreds of other claimants with proof of injuries from the same cause, a “callous disregard for the safety of the people.” While Liebeck didn’t actually walk away with her full award – after appeals were made, she and her lawyers agreed to a settlement with McDonald’s to avoid a long, drawn-out battle, – the damage had already been done.
And although Liebeck’s hot coffee case made headlines across the world because she sued such a big-name company, her situation is nowhere near isolated. Defective products or product injuries due to lack of instructions or proper warnings happen every day, everywhere, to anyone. They don’t discriminate and they are usually not anticipated.
Statistics on Defective Product Injuries
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps a running record of injuries and deaths due to everything from inflatable amusement toys to injury and death by product electrocution. Most of these records date back to 1997 or 1998, and they are comprehensive and often surprising.
In fact, some of these product-related deaths and injuries are so uncommon that you may not even realize they exist, like incidents involving yo-yo balls and televisions that tipped over, causing physical harm.
The data collected is then broken down into two main categories: injuries and deaths that occurred when the product was being used correctly or as reasonably expected, and those that happened when the product was being used incorrectly.
The numbers speak for themselves: Annually, an average of 5 – 10% of personal injury liability lawsuits are based on defective products and the hazards that come with them. These lawsuits are almost always founded on the basis that the person injured or killed was using them as reasonably expected, since that’s one of the stipulations for the claim to be filed.
These are the facts: Nearly 30 infants die every year because of crib-related deaths from defective products. Every year, dozens of toys are recalled due to unexpected safety hazards on release. Anywhere from 100,000 to almost 300,000 injuries are caused by toys each year – meaning that most of these injuries are to our innocent children.
But defective products go well beyond toys. In 2005, headlines were once again made as the huge computer company, Dell, recalled over 200,000 laptop batteries due to the risk of them overheating and causing fires. In 2016, Samsung discontinued selling the Galaxy Note 7 and recalled them after a defect was found in the batteries that resulted in fires and explosions (these phones are still illegal on airplanes).
Product liability lawsuits cause car dealerships to recall cars all the time or send out notices requesting owners to return their vehicles for preventative maintenance for potential defects.
This means that, just because the item you purchase is being sold in a big-name store or by a well-known manufacturer, it does not mean it is safe to use. It doesn’t mean it’s not safe, but it means that there is a potential for harm if the product has a defect in it when you use it.
Types of Product Liability Claims
If you’re wondering if your injury falls into a product liability situation, it helps to break down each claim by the three categories that encompass this type of personal injury. Claims that define defective product cases generally fall into either defective manufacturing, defective design, or failure to provide adequate instructions for use.
While every state is slightly different in their laws determining product liability, the overall concepts are similar. To justify your claim that your injury was due to a defective product, you have to show it was defective and also draw a direct line of evidence that correlates your injury to that defect.
Here is a summary of each type of product liability claim category to help you determine if your situation matches any of these:
- Defective manufacturing: If a product is considered to be manufactured defectively, it means that the flaw in it that causes it to work incorrectly occurred because of an error in the manufacturing process. It may have used damaged parts or was missing an integral piece of the product when it was sold to you, but the injury you incurred happened because of a defect when it was being made.
These types of product liability damages are often seen in accidents in which a faulty car part, such as a defective brake pad or tire, caused a motor vehicle collision that resulted in injuries or fatalities.
- Defective designs: Defectively designed product liability cases are less common, but they still happen. The reason they are less common is that to fall in this category a product’s entire design must be dangerous or defective. For the most part, the product is made specifically to the manufacturer’s detailed expectations, but that design has an inherent flaw that makes it dangerous. These products may not be as common, but they tend to cause more damage.
Design defects can include things like a car that is designed in such a way that it flips over when it goes around a corner or products used to heat water that don’t have heat-resistant handles.
- Failure to provide adequate warnings: Like our McDonald’s coffee scenario above, this type of claim comes from products that can cause injury if they are not used correctly. The McDonald’s and subsequent lawsuits have created a chain effect of companies creating warning labels that seem redundant, like the one that says, “Do not hold the wrong of the chainsaw” and the hair dryer warning that says, “Do not use while sleeping,” but many businesses would rather be safe than sorry. And you have to understand that most of these labels come from the fact that somebody, somewhere, likely sued that company for exactly what was on the label.
So while inadequate warnings have created a spate of frivolous lawsuits, they also have caused just as many, if not more, realistic claims.
Failure-to-warn claims are due to the fact that a product had a potential danger to it that was not obvious to the person using it. The manufacturer should have made it a point to provide warnings for the user to exercise precautions or watch for specific situations to avoid.
Regardless of the type of product liability claim that you have, if you were injured due to a defective product, you have rights. An expert attorney, like those of us at Hershey Law, can help you defend your rights and get the compensation you deserve for your suffering.
What to Expect With a Product Defect Claim
In most states’ laws, the manufacturer has specific expectations. They are required to provide a duty of care in which they design their product in a way that does not unreasonably harm anyone. The stipulation here is that the product must be used as intended or reasonably expected. They are also expected to provide warnings if there is a potential for unexpected damage when the product is being used in a certain way.
However, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show that the product was, indeed, defective and that the defect caused the injury or fatality in question. To show this proof, multiple factors must be addressed. The product has to be shown to have an unreasonably dangerous defect that injured you, either in the design, manufacture, handling, or shipment. The defect must be proven to have caused your injury while you were using it as reasonably intended, and the product must not have been substantially changed from the condition it was in when you purchased it.
The direct line of correlation can be difficult to prove, but when you work with knowledgeable attorneys who have experience in product liability cases, they know what to expect and how to demonstrate that direct correlation.
Product Injuries are Common – You are Not Alone!
If you were injured due to a defective product, you may feel like you have to fight the big corporation giants alone and that no one will believe you. That’s not the case when you deal with the attorneys at Hershey Law.
Our lawyers strive to offer our clients a professional and personal experience that shows we care about you as more than just a number. We know that you are suffering, and we want to use our expertise to help you on your path to healing. Call us today for your free consultation.