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As consumers, we generally expect the items that we purchase and use will be safe. We assume that they have been safety-tested and undergone quality assurance, and we expect any known issues to be dealt with quickly and in a way that’s appropriate for their severity.
In the United States, companies have strict liability when their products cause injuries or harm. Strict product liability means that any company that designed, manufactured or sometimes even marketed or sold the product can be held legally responsible, even if the company had no intention of causing injury.
It’s clearly in a company’s best interest to ensure that its product is safe.
Sometimes, though, a product defect can slip through the cracks. When that happens, it can be necessary to involve the courts to ensure that justice is done.
What Is a Defect in Manufacturing?
A manufacturing defect typically occurs when something goes wrong during the manufacturing process (as opposed to a design defect, where the product was designed in a way that makes it dangerous). In many cases, manufacturing defects affect a small number of the products created. Unfortunately, it only takes a single defective product to cause wrongful death or injury.
As mentioned above, product liability law holds the manufacturer responsible for defects, even if the manufacturer was not aware of the defect. Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that the products they’re creating are safe.
Common Examples of Manufacturing Defects
Although each manufacturing defect is unique in its specifics, there are certain types of defects that are more likely to happen. They include the following issues:
- Incomplete or missing components. If, for example, an important piece of safety equipment is left off, it can make the product more likely to cause injury.
- Incorrect installation or assembly. Similar to above, this happens when products aren’t made or assembled correctly.
- Improperly machined or manufactured parts. IAn error somewhere in the process that could create a dangerous product.
- Improperly programmed or calibrated. For products that have an electronic component or have very little tolerance of error, an issue with the way they’re programmed can lead to an increased risk of injury.
- Issues with the raw materials used. Substandard materials can lead to a dangerous product.
What Do Manufacturing Defects Look Like?
Manufacturing defects can happen in almost any industry and with almost every product. Some of the more common examples include:
- Prescription medication that has been tainted with a foreign substance
- Vehicles that are in accidents due to the failure of one of the car’s parts or systems
- Power tools that break while in use due to the failure of a part
- Food products that have been contaminated
- Electronic devices or other products that have a large number of manufactured parts that must all work together
Challenges in Proving Manufacturing Defects
Several factors can make it difficult to prove that a product caused injury. These include:
- The product itself was damaged while or immediately after it caused the injury. For example, imagine that a manufacturing defect in a computer caused it to catch on fire. Chances are good that the defective part is so damaged in the fire that it cannot properly be examined.
- Extenuating circumstances indicate that the defect in manufacturing was not the cause of the injury. For example, if a car crash is caused by an inebriated driver, the fact that one part of the car had a manufacturing defect may not have contributed to the accident at all.
- The product was modified by the user in a way that makes it less safe. A product often must be used for its intended design in order to make the manufacturer liable. For example, if the user intentionally removed or disabled safety precautions before they were injured, the manufacturer may have less responsibility.
- The product was used in a way that deviates from its intended design. If a product is used improperly, it’s possible that the court may hold the plaintiff responsible for the injury.
- The plaintiff was not injured. It’s not enough that a product could have caused harm. In order to bring a product liability lawsuit, actual injury must have occurred.
The malfunction doctrine addresses the first circumstance listed above: if the suspected defective product is damaged, destroyed, or otherwise unavailable for evaluation. This doctrine allows circumstantial evidence to be used to infer that the product was defective. Here are two examples:
- A wearable fitness tracker burns someone but is melted so badly that the components can’t be inspected in any meaningful way. The fact that the fitness tracker got hot enough to burn and melt can be used as evidence of a manufacturing defect.
- A patient takes a medication that they have taken many times in the past and suffers an adverse reaction to it. But it is the last dose of the medication, so it cannot be inspected. The fact that the patient has used the product many times without a reaction can be used as evidence of a manufacturing defect.
Defectively Designed Products
Sometimes the problem is not a manufacturing defect, but instead a more pervasive issue. Products can be designed in a way that makes them inherently dangerous or prone to fail—that is to say, the product was potentially defective even before it made it to the manufacturing process. And, of course, it’s possible that a product is both defectively designed and defectively manufactured.
Failure to Provide Adequate Warnings or Instructions
Consumers must be provided with instructions on the proper use of products, and warnings against reasonably foreseeable risks. For example, a box fan should include a warning not to place your hands inside the safety grates when the fan is plugged in. Most people already know this, but it can’t be assumed that everyone does.
Consumers also have a responsibility here: to read and follow all instructions and warnings. It’s going to be more difficult to prove that a company is liable for a defective product when the consumer has done something in direct opposition to warnings.
What Are My Next Steps If I’ve Been Injured By a Product Defect?
- Get medical attention immediately. Save all receipts and documentation.
- Retain as much of the product as you can. This isn’t always possible (such as the examples given in the malfunction doctrine section), but having access to the actual product is one of the gold standards of evidence.
- Contact an attorney who understands product liability. As mentioned earlier, there are many factors that make manufacturing defect lawsuits tricky. Look for a lawyer with a good track record in these particular types of cases.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How will I know if my injury was caused by a defective design or defective manufacturing?
You don’t need to know this to bring a suit. All you need to know is that you’ve been injured. Your attorney can handle the rest.
Do I need to have purchased the product to bring a liability suit?
No. If you’ve been hurt by a product defect, you can bring a product liability lawsuit, regardless of whether you purchased the product or not.
If I was partially at fault for the product malfunctioning, do I still have a case?
Maybe. Every state has its own laws for how they handle situations like this. Consult a local lawyer to see what the laws say in your state.