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What kinds of defects can lead to products liability claims?

There are many laws and regulations designed to ensure that products are safe and prevent consumer injury. Unfortunately, product defects do occur, manufacturers and product designers sometimes make mistakes, consumers use products in ways other than intended and consumer injury occurs. When a dangerous product results in injury, the designer or manufacturer of the product can be held liable for the injuries and damages caused.

There are essentially three different types of product liability claims, depending on what specifically resulted in the injury or caused the defect. The first type of claim relates to products where a defect occurred in the manufacture of the product. In these cases, the defect often occurs in the factory or facility where the product is made. The defects may include a weak or defective component in the product, a dangerous substance in the product or a missing part. In order to succeed in a products liability case based on a manufacturing defect, a plaintiff must prove that the defect and not the user's actions, caused the injury.

A second type of claim is based on the product's design. Sometimes, a product has a poor design that makes it inherently dangerous or defective, even if perfectly manufactured. This means all of the products manufactured according to that design will have the defect, not just a particular batch. Examples of these types of defects include products that do not do what they say -- such as sunglasses that do not protect from UV rays, or a car that has a tendency to roll-over or shut-off unexpectedly. Again, winning damages depends on proving that the injury resulted directly from the defect.

The third type of claim differs from the other two because it relates more to how the consumer uses the product and what the maker tells the consumer about the product's intended use than the product itself. These types of claims are called failure to provide adequate warning or instructions claims and involve a product that is only dangerous if it is used in a certain way. A consumer may not be aware of this risk, but if the manufacturer or designer fails to warn the consumer of the risk of harm, it can be held liable for any resulting injury.

Source: NOLO, "Types of Defective Product Liability Claims," Kathleen Michon, accessed Aug. 3, 2014

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