Products liability is the legal responsibility of a manufacturer, distributor or seller for injuries sustained as a result of defective products. Products liability encompasses injuries as a result of fire, explosion, mechanical failures, food poisoning and more.
Products distributed to the public are required to be safe. However, all too often, they are not. A coffee maker may have insufficient electrical safeguards or substandard wiring resulting in a fire. A generator may have faulty fuel lines resulting in an explosion. A child’s high chair may be built without adequate testing resulting in collapse under the weight of your child. Food processing plants may accidentally ship out large quantities of tainted food resulting in mass incidents of food poisoning.
In any of these cases the manufacturer, distributor or retailer may be liable depending on the situation. It takes a well informed attorney with expert investigators to determine who is truly at fault.
To understand how one or more of the manufacturers, distributors or retailers may be responsible for injuries, let’s take a look at each of the examples above.
The Coffee Maker that Causes a Fire. In this situation, the cause of the fire being substandard wiring would likely fall on the manufacturer. However, it is also possible that the distributor or retailer was aware that a problem had been reported in a number of the units, yet continued to sell the coffee makers to the public. Under those circumstances, everyone who was aware that a potentially life threatening fire hazard existed would be jointly liable for any injuries sustained as a result of the faulty product.
This is the reason for “recalls” of products which are widely publicized in the media. When a product is believed to be dangerous every stage of the distribution process owes a duty of care to the end user to stop selling the product, pull the item from the shelves and issue a mass recall of the units already sold.
The Exploding Generator. Some products are shipped to retailers unassembled. If the distributor or retailer is responsible for the proper assembly of the product before it is transferred to the consumer, yet fails to assemble it properly, perhaps by improperly attaching a fuel line which then leaks fuel and results in an explosion, the manufacturer would not be liable for the consumer’s injuries, but the retailer who assembled the product would.
The Collapsing High Chair. Products intended for use by infants and children must be strenuously tested before they are shipped to stores for sale to new parents. If that testing process is shortened, circumvented or ignored, the product may be unsafe. An end user may trust the product and the safety of their fragile young child in the product. Additionally, many of these products are intended to be assembled by the consumer. If the instructions on assembly are inadequate or confusing, the parent may inadvertently assemble the product incorrectly. In such a case, the manufacturer would likely be the one held liable for the injuries to a child.
Children are particularly susceptible to injury because of their unawareness of the dangers around them. During an incident they do not have the experience to catch themselves as they begin to fall and they may be severely injured, or even killed.
Food Poisoning. The federal government (U.S. Department of Agriculture) creates the regulations for food handling and processing and monitors companies that distribute food products. Spot checks are performed by the USDA but sometimes a food processor or distributor fails to meet the standards laid down by our government. Spoiled or tainted food products can reach the public resulting in mass food poisoning, hospitalization and even death.
Many food products are required to be kept refrigerated throughout their life. Failure by a distributor to maintain correct environmental controls over the product during shipping may cause the food to spoil. In that case, it would be the distributor who would be held liable for the illnesses.
On the other hand, many food products such as fruits and vegetables are exposed to various toxic substances (pesticides, cleaning solvents, etc.) as they are grown and stored for distribution. In such a case, the liability for illnesses might fall upon the farm where the products were grown.
Lastly, retailers are responsible for monitoring the shelf life of foods. Many grocery stores will extend the shelf life of meat, which is a high dollar item, by “marinating” it in bbq sauce or other marinades. Often, the reason for “marinating” is that the meat has changed color and no longer looks palatable. While the meat may still be edible at that time, it makes it much more difficult for the consumer (and the retailer) to identify potentially tainted products. If the item is not pulled from the shelf in time, it may be sold and the customer may become dreadfully ill.
Remember to be cautious when purchasing products which have a limited shelf life, check the dates on the labels and if you note a product on the shelf that has passed its “sell by” date, notify the store manager immediately. Your action may save a life, including your own, and it is unlikely that a store manager will take your concern as anything but helpful. After all, no grocery store wants the reputation of having sold tainted meat to its customers.
What can you do?
As you can see there are many different types of product liability and many different people who may be the cause of the problem. In each situation, investigation is the key to establishing liability and recovering for your injuries or illness. Choosing a law firm with the best investigative experts is the first step in ensuring you receive the maximum recovery and help to prevent anyone else from suffering the same fate as you.
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