Manufacturers hear stories about product lawsuits (ie – McDonalds ‘hot coffee’ suit) and get concerned that they could be next.
To help business owners / risk managers have a clearer understanding of ‘products liability’, below is an explanation of its three major categories.
1. Design Defects
The first type of product liability claim is a lawsuit that is based on the defective design of a product. Legal action alleges that the product is inherently dangerous based on its design alone, rather than an error made during the manufacturing of the product.
For example, a car that is top heavy – and therefore poses a high risk of rollover/tip-over – is an example of a defectively designed product.
2. Manufacturing Defects
Manufacturing defects are the most common cause of product liability claims. A lawsuit based on a manufacturing defect alleges that the original design of the product is completely safe, but that something happened during the manufacturing process to make the product unsafe.
A manufacturing defect exists if the product does not conform to its intended design and fails to perform safely as the intended design would have performed.
For example, consider a set of tires: the tires themselves are designed to support the weight of a vehicle, resist punctures, and hold up against wear and tear – by accepted standards, the tires are safe for use.
However, during the manufacture of these well-designed tires, sawdust gets into the adhesive glue that is used to secure the tire together, resulting in a high risk of tire tread separation, tire blowout, and a serious accident.
3. Warning / Labeling Defects
In a product liability claim that focuses on a warning or labeling defect, the plaintiff alleges…
- that the product had some sort of inherent danger,
- and the manufacturer of the product had a legal duty to warn of this danger but failed to do so.
This is very common with prescription medications; a patient may take a certain medication, only to experience adverse side effects that were not disclosed by the pharmaceutical company.
A warning may be defective due to inadequate wording, location of the warning, or other circumstances concerning the manner in which the warning is conveyed. Consider the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case, in which McDonald’s was sued after a customer spilled a hot cup of coffee on herself, suffering serious burns.