Legal Theories of recovery for Product Liability Lawsuits

Common Legal Theories of Recovery

  1. The manufacturer screws up. Product Liability lawsuits are often the result of human error during the manufacturing process. It could be the result of when a defective part is introduced to a product or when a critical part is left out of the manufacturing process. If a claimant can prove your product deviated from design specifications, formulas or the manufacturer’s performance standards or from identical units manufactured earlier, you could be facing a huge products liability claim.
  2. Your instructions or warnings lack clarity. Think about all the cultures and languages of the people buying your product. Does the meaning of your warnings or instructions, when translated from the original language really have the same meaning when translated to another language? Any confusion over the wording in your instructions or warnings by the end user of your product could result in a successful  product liability claim against your company.
  3. Your product has a design defect. Design defects are one of the most common forms of product liability lawsuits. It is every company’s desire to build a better mousetrap. All too often, in a manufacturer’’s haste to introduce a product to the market, key considerations on how the product will perform in varied conditions are not fully contemplated. For example, an engineer or designer at a wheel company invents a compound that helps their wheels grip the road better, but fails to take into account all the conditions in which the wheel will be used. The result may be a wheel that performs well in mild to medium climates, but may fail and fall apart in hotter, southern climates. Engineers and designers are often under pressure to introduce cutting-edge products that give their company a competitive edge or simply allow them to keep up with their competitors. The story about the wheels is a true story. The company produced hundreds of thousands of wheels that were supposed to have superior grip and was forced to pull all of them off the market. Fortunately, in this case, no one died.

The history of product liability: Evolution from negligence to strict liability

Until 1963, proof of negligence was required to pursue a product liability lawsuit. After 1963, the burden shifted from the injured party to the manufacturer and seller, giving the advantage to the consumer.

Five reasons why the courts adopted the Strict Liability Doctrine

  1. The production of products shifted from hand-crafted products to mass-produced products. As a result, the close relationship between the maker of products and the consumer was altered.
  2. Trade secrets of the manufacturers were often protected and not easily accessed by the general public.
  3. Consumers often purchased products based on marketing and advertising of the manufacturer or distributor and typically lacked the skills to investigate the integrity of the product.
  4. Consumers weren’t considered cautious about products and often trusted the reputation of the manufacturer or the trademark.
  5. The manufacturer’s accountability to the consumer was required to keep up with the changing relationship between them.


The Consumer and Strict Liability Doctrine

Under the Strict Liability Doctrine, the terms consumer and user are meant to be interpreted widely.  The courts have extended protection beyond the actual purchaser to remote customers, employees, users or consumers, passengers, and even innocent bystanders.

The Strict Liability Doctrine came about to relieve the burden of proof of negligence from an injured party or plaintiff.  When negligence-based product liability cases were the norm, the plaintiff was required to prove the following three elements:

  1. The product was defective
  2. The defect caused the injury
  3. The manufacturer or seller did not exercise due care


The first two elements are still required when pursuing a product liability lawsuit. However, the hardest part in negligence-based claims was proving the manufacturer or seller did not exercise due care and. Unfortunately, the burden of supplying proof of negligence fell solely on the injured party.  Due care or negligence means proving that an ordinary person would not have done the same in similar circumstances. Ultimately, the courts decided that those who market and make products are in a better position to bear  the cost of injuries from defects than those injured by the products.

Want to talk about your potential liabilities?

Call Paul Owens at 800-622-7370 for a consultation on the potential liabilities of your product and the likely cost of your Product Liability insurance.