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What is a Products Liability Case?

The manufacturers of products are responsible for the safety of the products that they release into the market. A product may be defective because of a flaw in materials or construction, or a product may be dangerous because it was poorly designed. These are referred to as manufacturing defects and design defects. If you are hurt because of a defective product, you may have a right to collect damages from the manufacturer. These are called product liability cases. Well-known examples include:

  • Poorly designed cars, trucks, motorcycles and recreational vehicles;
  • Unsafe power tools and appliances including everything from lawnmowers to heavy construction and farm machinery;
  • Hazardous children's toys, clothing or other accessories such as car seats and cribs; and,
  • Pharmaceuticals or other health care products that cause dangerous side-effects or death.

Not only is the manufacturer liable for design defects that cause injury, the merchant or distributor who sold the defective product can also be held liable in certain cases.

Product Liability claims are based on three theories of law: strict liability, negligence, and/or breach of warranties.

1) Strict Liability
Strict liability holds that the manufacturer of a product is responsible to anyone injured by the use of an unreasonably dangerous product. Here we focus our attention on the product itself. Minnesota law requires that to prove strict liability, a person must show that:

  • The product was defective and unreasonably dangerous;
  • The product was defective when it left the manufacturer; and,
  • The defect caused injury to the person bringing the claim.

2) Negligence
A claim of negligence, on the other hand, focuses on the actions of the manufacturer in designing and producing a product. In other words, did the company fail to exercise reasonable care in the manufacture of the product, and/or did it ignore its own (or industry standard) production, inspection and safety guidelines?

Keep in mind that this doesn't mean a manufacturer must make all products perfectly safe. Some products, by their very nature, can result in injury if used improperly. For example, eye injuries can result from using many power tools without wearing eye protection. However, the manufacturer probably would not be liable if there were adequate warnings to wear eye protection while using the tool.

3) Breach Of Warranty
A warranty is the manufacturer's promise that a product will perform as intended. If the product doesn't perform as warranted and causes an injury in the process, the manufacturer can be held responsible for injuries or damages under a breach of warranty claim.

In Minnesota and many other states, a basic warranty is implied under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) even if no warranty is offered with the product. The UCC states that a manufacturer can be liable if the consumer is hurt using the product as intended. The product must also properly serve the purpose that the manufacturer intended by selling the product. In addition to state and federal basic warranties additional warranty periods may be created by contract on or after the time of purchase.

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