Product Liability, Your Injury and 4 Features of Your Negligence Claim

Often public interest in a particular case leads Metts Legal to write about it as a blog topic.  Our hot topic for the month is product liability laws.  Because of the recent law suits against Johnson and Johnson, we are featuring product liability law.

Defective Product: Call Metts Legal

The Law:  Consumer Protection from Defective Products

You might want to review our previous story.  It concerns the controversial cases brought against Johnson and Johnson by several plaintiffs.   They claim J and J talcum powder or other J and J talcum products caused their ovarian cancer.  Thus their cases are directly related to product liability law and defective products.  So, in this article, let’s take a deeper look at the laws that regulate businesses who create or sell products that hurt you.

When A Product Hurts You, Who Is Responsible?

If a manufacturer or seller sells a consumer a “bad” or defective product, he or she is liable in the eyes of the law.  Metts Legal would like you to understand certain principles of law that protect you.  Likewise, every business or person in the chain of distribution of that product is liable.
To put it simply, a product must meet the consumer’s reasonable, ordinary expectations.  In general, responsibility for an injury-causing product lies primarily with the manufacturer.  However, your suit can include all sellers of the product who are in the distribution chain.

Here’s the amazing point about liability law:  Would you believe there is no federal product liability law?  It’s true; state law regulates product liability.  State law also establishes the specifics of negligence.  However, there are three concepts or features upon which legislatures build those state laws.

Major Theories of Product Liability

Across the states, we see the Law, in general, has three special concepts for product liability cases. Although proven concepts, The Law refers to these concepts as theories.  They are the theories of

A.  negligence,

B.  strict liability

C.  or breach of warranty.

Out of these three theories, Metts Legal first brings you four facets facts on negligence in this blog.  Later blog articles will cover strict liability and breach of warranty. When a product injures someone, it is almost a knee-jerk reaction to place the blame for the injury on the manufacturer.  Thus, we can realize, we all know a little about the basic, legal principle–the theory–of negligence.  The theory of negligence simply holds a careless person or company responsible and legally liable for causing you injury.

How to Win Your Negligence Claim:  Prove These 4 Facets of Negligence

If you are the person injured by a product, you will need to prove 4 features or facets to prove negligence.  These facets will demonstrate the negligence of the defendant.

The First Facet of a Negligence Claim–A Legal Obligation of Duty:

Metts Legal wants you to know damages that are caused by Nature and those caused by product defects.

Shattered car windshield: Nature or Design Flaw?

This is not some vague, nebulous idea of responsibility.  It is a legally binding duty.  We must prove that the person or company whose product harmed you had a certain, legally binding responsibility to you.

  • For example, a doctor is legally obliged to give you medical care.
  • Likewise, a driver has a legal duty to drive with care.

It follows, in a legitimate suit, a seller owes you the legal duty of a product that meets your reasonable expectations.  Thus, it should not injure you when used appropriately.  You will allege in your suit that the defendant owed a legal duty to you under whatever the circumstances are in your case.  You and your lawyer will show that the client neglected his obligation of duty, thereby injuring you with his product.

A Second Facet of  a Negligence Claim–Breach of Duty:

The second element we must prove in court is a breach of duty.  The Court will meticulously examine the circumstances of your case.  The court will determine if the defendant did an action or neglected an action that would not have been done or neglected by a reasonably prudent person.   Read on to see an example of a breach:

A Fictitious Case Example of Breach of Duty:

For example, breach of duty would come into sharp focus if you manufactured airplane engines, and hired an independent consultant to check the safety of the latest engine blocks. Let’s suppose the airplane engine consultant told you the latest shipment of airplane engine blocks built by your company were cracked.

  • In fact he advised you not to sell them.
  • Furthermore, he informed you that these engine blocks could very well cause the planes to crash.
  • You sold them to airplane companies anyway.
  • Plus, you painted over the crack to disguise the defect.
  • Ouch!  You have breached your duty.  You have also probably left a trail of paperwork, that lawyers for injured plaintiffs will find. (This is a fictitious case, although based on some facts.  A famous playwrite used it as a premise for an play, which some readers might recognize. This example case was based roughly on the storyline of the Pulitzer prize-winning play, All My Sons by Arthur Miller.)

So, Metts Legal wants you to know the term “reasonably prudent person.”  It represents how an average person would react in a given situation.  Basically, the defendant will be found negligent if the average person, knowing what the defendant knew at the appropriate time, would have been aware that a person might have been hurt as a result of his or her action.

Would Mr. Average have sold those airplane engine blocks in our example?  Would you?  If the average person would have acted differently in the situation of your injury, then it is likely the defendant will be held accountable for his actions. (Painting over the cracks in the engine blocks is a complication of the case that could be covered in another blog.)

A Third Facet: Causation

Simply put, we must prove that the defendant’s negligence absolutely, positively caused your injury.  Look at a very obvious example.  You are driving car A.  Car B runs a light and hits you.  Plus, let’s suppose car C was driving a block away from the accident location, and the triver is busily and insanely texting.

Whereas Car C is performing a negligent act, it is not the cause of your injury.  Car C is thereby not liable.  Few cases are as obvious as this example.  However, it does demonstrate the legal element of “causality.” (By the way, if Car B got a ticket for running the red light and reckless driving, you have some authoritative proof of causality against Car B.)

Likewise, if a product harms you, you must show it was the cause of your injury, in order to prove negligence against the defendant.

A Fourth Facet of Negligence:  Damages

Defective Weather Forcast Ruins Wedding Reception?  Laws cut both ways. 

The fourth facet of a negligence case is damages.  This facet mandates that the court will compensate your injury expenses.  This includes items, like medical care or the repairs to your damaged property.  The court must discern if the defendant could have predicted that his or her actions could result in your injury.  If so, the court will require the defendant to pay you for damages.  This brings with it the idea of foreseeable damage.

For example, suppose you are driving your new truck.  A freakish Tornado swoops you and the truck up into the air.  It roughly deposits you into the upper branches of a large tree.  You survive, but you cannot expect the designer of the truck to pay for damages or your whiplash.  No truck can be designed as tornado–proof.

So, if the defendant’s actions or product somehow caused the plaintiff injury, but only because of a random act of nature, the injury would most likely be ruled unforeseeable. (On the other hand, if you have kept your health, home and auto insurance payments up to date, you, the truck and the tree probably have no problems.)

In related information you can read about a landmark personal injury case. Check out this New York Times report to see how a Miami jury found the tobacco industry liable for the diseases of smokers.

Your Take-Away for Today

Now you know the about four key features of a personal injury lawsuit inolving a product that harms you.  There are many more facets to this type of personal injury.

Metts Legal posts articles such as this one in order to bring you educational information about the law and your rights.  If you or your family have been injured by a product, please do not feel like you have to tolerate it. Find a personal injury lawyer to evaluate your case.

If you are afraid that filing suit might make you look selfish or petty, please realize that in actuality, your lawsuit might even help other more seriously injured people. We have seen people give into the schedules of daily life and ignore injustice from manufacturers of defective products.

A Reminder about Internet Legal Advice

We hope you will at least check with a personal injury lawyer such as Metts Legal, about the circumstances of your situation if you are hurt by a product.  We also caution you against using the Internet as a sole source of legal advice.  Our articles, for example, are strictly for purposes of general information, not specific, case related legal advice.  As in medicine, legal matters require that you talk to an expert about your specific situation.

Thank you for visiting Metts Legal Blog.  We hope you return next week for more legal news since we are tracking several interesting stories and points of law for you.

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