Thousands of people are injured every year by dangerous or defective products. The laws governing responsibility for product defects are different from ordinary liability law. These rules can make it easier to recover damages for injury.
Product liability means that a manufacturer or retailer can be held liable for producing or selling a defective product. Responsibility for a product defect lies with all sellers or distributors of a product, including the manufacturer and component manufacturers, wholesalers, and retail stores. Some state laws provide that wholesalers and retailers cannot be held liable unless the product was manufactured to specifications provided by the seller, or unless the seller modified the product.
There is no federal product liability law, and states have different product liability statutes. Generally, these statutes are modeled on the Uniform Commercial Code and require products to meet the consumer's expectations. These expectations obviously include the expectation that a product not be defective or dangerous.
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There are three theories of product liability:
Negligence. A manufacturer can be shown to be negligent if the design or manufacture of their product is clearly unsafe, or if it can be shown that the manufacturer or seller did not take adequate and reasonable precaution to prevent injury caused by their product.
Strict liability. This theory does not require proof of negligence, but merely proof that the product was unsafe.
Breach of warranty. A product's manufacturer or seller can be held liable for breach of warranty if the product is unsafe or not fit to be used as intended. This can occur if the product was incorrectly designed, assembled, or if the components do not perform properly.
In the past, recovery of damages required a contractual relationship between a product's manufacturer or seller and the injured person. However, most state no longer require this relationship, and you do not have to be the product's owner in order to recover damages. As long as the product was sold to someone, anyone who could have been foreseeably injured can recover damages.
For strict liability to apply, a sale must be made as part of a regular business. Therefore, while a manufacturer or retailer can be found liable, someone who sells a product at a garage sale can probably not be found liable for a product defect.