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What Are Some Defenses to Product Liability?

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Product liability claims are filed by consumers who have been hurt by a defective product. Ideally, every consumer would be fairly compensated for their injuries. But, realistically, some claims will be challenged and denied after the product maker puts up a strong defense.

If you have recently been injured by a product and you think the product maker is liable, then you need to start thinking about what they could do to defend themselves from your claim.

What is a Product Liability Claim?

buying a hairdryerProduct liability falls under the umbrella of personal injury law but with specific regard to individuals who are harmed by faulty products. A defective product can be anything from a vehicle, drug, medical device, or home appliance.

A product may be defective if it's design was inherently dangerous, it was manufactured incorrectly or with defective parts, or it had insufficient warnings or instruction on how to use the product properly.

A product liability claim may be brought against the product designer, manufacturer, or seller, depending on who was responsible for the defect that caused the injury.

5 Common Product Liability Defenses

The companies that design and manufacture products stand to lose thousands if not millions of dollars from product liability lawsuits and will do almost anything to invalidate a claim brought against them.

Here are some of the most common defenses that may challenge a product liability claim:

Contributory negligence

Defense attorneys often rely on the defense of contributory negligence in a variety of case types, including product liability cases. The premise of this defense is that the plaintiff’s own mistakes contributed enough to their injuries that it should reduce or eliminate the defendant’s liability. In some states like South Dakota, a plaintiff can’t recover damages if their own liability is 50% or greater.

Assumption of risk

The assumption of risk defense used by some product makers asserts that the consumer knew that there was some inherent risk to using the product, even as intended. If the consumer is injured in a feasibly predictable way, then the product maker would argue the assumption of risk eliminates its own liability. For example, there is a reasonable assumption of risk that using a sharp kitchen knife could lead to a laceration if the product is even slightly mishandled.

Unrelated injury

A straightforward but sometimes effective defense to product liability claims is to argue that the plaintiff’s injury is unrelated to the product. If the defending company can show that the injury was caused by something else or was preexisting, then it could protect it from liability.

Altered product

One of the most significant defenses to a product liability claim is that the product was unreasonably or unexpectedly altered after it left the product maker’s control. At that point, the liability could be on a different party, like a distributor who shipped the product unsafely or a vendor who might have changed it before selling it. If the consumer intentionally altered the product before being hurt by it, then the product maker could also use that to its advantage. For example, a consumer removes the insulated grip of a pan handle and is subsequently burned by the metal handle underneath. The product maker would likely not be liable assuming it had warned the consumer not to remove the insulating rubber grip somewhere in the product instructions or packaging.

Product liability waiver

Before purchasing or using some products, there are liability waivers that the consumer has to sign or acknowledge. Standard versions of these waivers usually say that the product maker cannot be sued for damages if the product causes harm. Instead, the consumer can enter confidential arbitration with the company to receive compensation. Forced arbitration is a favorite tactic among all types of businesses because it often benefits them, not the plaintiff. It is easier to reach a one-sided conclusion when separated from a civil court.

How Can You Challenge Product Liability Defenses?

There will always be some sort of defense strategy a product maker can use in a product liability case, even when it seems clear that the fault is on them. Unless you are well-versed in liability law and consumer protection regulations, you could be at a disadvantage when trying to sue for fair compensation. A simple way to build your case with confidence, avoid legal missteps, and challenge defense strategies is to allow your case to be managed by an experienced product liability attorney.

The people of Rapid City know they can count on Whiting Hagg & Dorsey, LLP for reliable product liability claim counsel and representation. Call us at (605) 519-6136 when you need legal assistance and a shoulder to lean on. Initial consultations are free and confidential.