Strict liability means that the victim of an accident caused by a defective product need not prove the manufacturer or distributor’s negligence in order to recover damages. Rather, he or she must only prove that:
- The product was defective;
- The defect caused the victim’s injury; and
- At the time of the accident, the product’s state was not substantially altered from the time it left the defendant’s possession.
In strict liability, the focus is on the condition of the product. It is intended to ensure that manufacturers test products before putting them on the market, to keep consumers safe.
To bring a products liability claim under a negligence theory, the victim must show that:
- He or she was injured by a product;
- The injury occurred because of the product’s dangerously defective condition;
- At the time of the injury, the product was in basically the same condition as when it left the seller or manufacturer’s possession; and
- The seller or manufacturer breached in some manner its duty to exercise due care.
Unlike in a strict liability claim, the focus in a negligence claim is on the defendant seller or manufacturer’s actions, and the victim must prove the defendant’s fault in order to recover damages.
Breach of Warranty
In a breach of warranty claim, in addition to proving the injury, the defective condition, and the unchanged state of the product, the victim must also prove that:
- The seller or manufacturer made a warranty to the consumer; and
- The warranty was breached at the time the product left the seller or manufacturer’s control.
There are three types of breach of warranty under which a consumer can recover in a products liability case:
- Breach of express warranty;
- Breach of implied warranty of merchantability; and
- Breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.
Express warranties are a manufacturer or seller’s explicit guarantee, relied upon by the purchaser. Express warranties may be made either verbally or in writing. If the product does not conform to that guarantee, the defendant may be liable for any resultant injuries. For example, if a seller says that a hair dryer can be used around water without a risk of electrocution, and the consumer is later electrocuted while using the hair dryer near water, the seller has breached an express warranty and will be liable.
The implied warranty of merchantability means that goods for sale must be merchantable, or of adequate quality and suitable for the ordinary purposes for which goods of that type are used.
For example, a bicycle should be able to support a rider, have functional brakes, be properly steered, and generally not fall apart when ridden. If it fails to do any of these things, it may have breached the implied warranty of merchantability.
The implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose means that when a seller has reason to know that the purchaser is looking for a product to suit a particular purpose and recommends a certain product, the seller may be liable if he or she sells the buyer a product that is not suited for that purpose. For example, if a buyer asks a seller to recommend a helmet suitable for motorcycle riding, and the seller offers a helmet that is not strong enough to protect a motorcyclist in the event of a crash, the seller may be liable if the purchaser subsequently suffers a head injury in a motorcycle accident, that could have been prevented by a proper helmet.