Consumer products are a daily part of our lives, but some products are dangerous and can cause serious injury. Manufacturers and sellers of products have a duty to protect consumers from danger resulting from the use of their products, and when they fail to do so, and a defective product causes an injury, the seller or manufacturer can be held liable for the resultant damages.
Elements of a Defective Product Case
To recover damages in a products liability case, the victim must show that a product had a defective condition that made its use unreasonably dangerous. There are three types of product defects:
- Design defects;
- Manufacturing defects; and
- Advertising or warning defects.
A design defect means that a product is designed in such a manner that its use is inherently dangerous. Manufacturing defects occur when a product is manufactured in a way not in accordance with its design, and the defect in the manufacturing or assembly makes the product unsafe. Marketing defects include a lack of proper instructions for use or adequate safety warnings.
A defective condition means that the product is unsafe for normal use and handling. This includes uses that are not necessarily what the product was originally intended for, but are uses that are anticipated by the manufacturer or seller.
To determine whether a product is defective and unreasonably dangerous, South Carolina courts use two tests:
- Whether the product is unreasonably dangerous given the foreseeable conditions associated with use; and
- Whether the danger of use outweighs the utility of the product.
Courts will look at industry standards to determine whether the design was reasonable and whether it was more dangerous than an average consumer would expect. The mere malfunctioning of a product is not sufficient to constitute a defect, and the mere fact that a product could be made safer is not enough to show that it was unreasonably dangerous.
Liable Parties in a Defective Products Claim
The theory of product liability is based on the idea that manufacturers are best able to keep defective and dangerous products out of the hands of consumers. Failing to do so can cause devastating injuries, for which manufacturers, and distributors may be held liable.
The parties that may be held liable include manufacturers, designers, producers, assemblers, and fabricators of products or parts. Sellers may also be liable, and include distributors, wholesalers, retailers, and anyone involved in selling the product.
Product Liability Claims
In South Carolina, product liability claims can be based on any of three major theories:
- Strict liability;
- Negligence; or
- Breach of warranty.
Regardless of the theory, however, all products liability cases require proving that:
- The consumer was injured by the product;
- The product had an unreasonably dangerous, defective condition; and
- At the time of injury, the product was in essentially the same state as when it left the defendant’s control.
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.
Contact a Clinton Defective Product Lawyer Today
If you or a loved one has been injured by the use of a defective consumer product, please contact a Clinton products liability attorney today at the Joye Law Firm (877) 933-9707 for a free initial consultation.