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Personal Injury Lawsuits and Product Liability

August 24, 2016

Most manufacturers take great pains to ensure that their products are safe for public use, which requires using adequate materials, proper construction, and regular inspections. Unfortunately, some companies do not adhere to these standards and so place defectively designed or manufactured products on the market. This poses a great risk to unknowing consumers who purchase the product. Fortunately, victims may be able to recover compensation for injuries they sustained by filing a product liability suit.

Product Liability Claims

There are three different types of product liability claims, including those based on:

  • Defective manufacturing, which means that a product’s design was safe, but a problem during production caused it to become dangerous;
  • Defective design, which means that a product was inherently unsafe because of the way it was designed; and
  • Failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions on the proper use of the product.

Examples of products whose defects most often result in injury to consumers include:

  • Vehicles;
  • Drugs;
  • Medical devices;
  • Food;
  • Toys;
  • Clothes;
  • Electrical devices;
  • Construction materials;
  • Power tools;
  • Household appliances; and
  • Heavy machinery.

Liability 

Product liability cases can be brought under one of three different legal theories, including strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.  In order to obtain compensation for their losses in a strict liability case, parties injured by a defective product must establish that:

  • The seller was engaged in the business of selling that product;
  • The product was in a defective condition that was unreasonably dangerous to the user;
  • The product was expected to and did reach the consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it was sold; and
  • The victim was injured as a result of the defect.

Even if the seller used all possible care in preparing and selling his product and the consumer did not buy the product directly from him or her, the seller can still be held responsible. However, if the user discovered the defect and was aware of the danger, but still used the product and was injured as a result, he or she will be barred from recovery. Manufacturers or assemblers who use another company’s part or component are also still considered responsible for testing and inspecting that part. A negligent failure to do so opens him or her up to liability for any injuries that result.

A breach of warranty claim requires proof of two additional elements:

  • The seller or manufacturer made a warranty to the injured party; and
  • A breach of the warranty existed at the time the product left the control of the manufacturer or seller.

In South Carolina, the implied warranty of merchantability is automatically applied to most products, even when it is not mentioned in the contract. This means that there is an inherent understanding by the buyer that the product is fit for the ordinary purposes for which they are intended to be used. This warranty requires that products be adequately packaged, labeled, and that they conform to the specifications on the label.

In addition to proving that the product was defective, had not been substantially changed, and caused an injury, plaintiffs pursuing a negligence claim must also show that the seller or manufacturer failed to exercise due care.

All three legal theories require convincing proof that the defect was the source of the victim’s injury, so plaintiffs should make sure to preserve the product in the condition it was in when the accident took place. Expert testimony may also be required to explain how the product was defective.

Risk-Utility Test

In determining whether a product’s design was defective and so unreasonably dangerous, South Carolina courts adhere to the risk-utility test. This test requires the plaintiff to show that:

  • At the time of sale or manufacturer there was a reasonable and financially practical alternative design available, which would have reduced the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product; and
  • The manufacturer’s failure to adopt the alternative design rendered the product unsafe.

The Restatement suggests that courts should evaluate a variety of factors in balancing a product’s risk and utility. These factors include details about the product, including:

  • Its overall usefulness and desirability;
  • Its safety characteristics;
  • The availability of an alternative product, which would be safe and serve the same purpose;
  • The manufacturer’s ability to make it safe without impairing its usefulness or making it too expensive;
  • The user’s ability to avoid danger by exercising care when using it;
  • The user’s anticipated awareness of the dangers of the product and how to avoid them;
  • The manufacturer’s ability to spread the loss by carrying insurance or setting the price;
  • The gravity of the danger posed by its design;
  • The likelihood and seriousness of the danger;
  • The financial cost of the alternative design;
  • The adverse consequences to the product and the consumer if the proposed alternative design were utilized;
  • Public knowledge of the product’s danger; and
  • Whether the challenged product is essential or a luxury item.

If, after an analysis of these factors, a jury finds that a product’s utilities and other benefits outweigh the foreseeable harm, then the product will be deemed safe.

Time Limits

There is no statute of limitations that applies specifically to product liability cases. Instead, the limitations period is the same as for any personal injury case, which in South Carolina, is three years. In applying this deadline, courts recognize the discovery rule, which allows the statute of limitations to begin running, not from the time of the accident, but from when the injury resulting from the negligent act was discovered or should have been discovered.

We are constantly surrounded by consumer products. This means that many people are at risk of unknowingly purchasing and using a potentially dangerous and defective product. Injuries sustained from malfunctioning products can be extremely painful and even deadly, so if you are a South Carolina resident and were injured by a defective consumer product, please contact the Connell Law Firm by completing a standard contact form, including your name, phone number, and email, and a member of our skilled product liability legal team in Kershaw County will help you schedule an initial consultation.