DEFECTIVE PRODUCT LAW
Product Liability laws exist for a multitude of reasons, however the paramount reason for their existence is thought to be that they operate to protect consumers and the general public from injury arising from dangerous or defective products. The entire body of product liability law strives to impose reasonable limitations on manufacturers, by imposing a reasonable duty of care, at hopefully limited costs, while striving to achieve a societal benefit in protecting consumers. The body of law that falls under the “products liability” umbrella is also important to the business community since violations of these laws can lead to significant financial penalties for non-complying businesses, in the form of fines and punitive damages.
Frequently, when such laws are violated, innocent consumers of products are injured, and the manufacturers are held legally responsibility for the performance of their products even after those products gone through an extended chain of exchange. Take a motor vehicle air bag, for example. The front-seat air bag on a standard passenger vehicle is designed to protect passengers from head trauma, in a head-on collision. This is simple enough in theory. When vehicle sensors detect a head-on collision, if the system is operating correctly, the air bag is supposed to deploy within a matter of milliseconds to stop the heads of the driver and passenger from making contact with the steering wheel or dashboard. Indeed, because of their usefullness and efficacy, air bags have become a standard safety feature in modern vehicles and they are so effective that many automotive manufacturers have begun including them on the sides of vehicles to stop passengers from hitting the windows on side impacts. The air bag is a pivotal part of a vehicle’s safety and prevents an innumerable amount of injuries and fatalities each year. However, airbags are not perfect. Errors occasionally do occur in the design and manufacturing process.
Part of the manufacturer’s duty of care to consumers, extends not only the manufacture and design of products, but also a reasonable “duty to warn,” under certain circumstances. However, a warning label that is affixed to a product does not always absolve potential defendants of legal liability, especially where the product has “inherently” dangerous propensities. In such cases, a recall of the affected products may be appropriate.
For example, auto manufacturers who operate in the United States have recently been the subjects a massive air-bag recall. This sort of thing happens occasionally, often beneath the awareness of the general public. However, this recall, unlike hundreds of others released to the public each year, is the largest consumer product recall in United States history. This recall affects one in every four vehicles on United States roads. The recalled vehicles come from eleven different car manufacturers and the cause of the recall is essentially that defective airbags that were installed in 34 million cars in the U.S. These airbags have the potential to EXPLODE and injure those they are designed to protect. Air bag manufacturer Takata has recently admitted that a faulty inflator can cause an airbag to explode, although the cause is still unknown. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), “These inflators were made with a propellant that can degrade over time and has led to ruptures that have been blamed for six deaths worldwide.”
It is also generally true that extremely dangerous products can carry with them strict liabilities for the manufacturer, regardless of the duty to warn or recall. The theory goes that a manufacturer enters into an industry to make a product, which they know is extremely dangerous. They can warn consumers all they like, but the danger of the products itself may be inescapable. Accordingly, in such situations, the law may decide the products are inherently dangerous and impose strict liability on the manufacturer regardless of whether there was any actual or constructive negligence. Such strict liability is thought to be a deterrent to manufacturer’s carelessness, in that it will encourage them to take every possible precaution to ensure consumer safety, for if they fail, someone will get hurt and they will be responsible.
Take alcohol and cigarettes for example. These products have been known for decades to be harmful to human health and have federally regulated warnings on their packaging. The latter product class has been labelled with vigor and contains some rather frightening warnings. Nevertheless consumers still drink and smoke, sometimes in sufficiently large enough quantities to lead to a health crisis. More importantly, there have been several successful recent class action lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers. Indeed as the knowledge of humanity progresses, what becomes known as inherently dangerous is a shifting proposition. As such, the laws will likely change with the times to accommodate our knowledge of the world around us.
It is not only manufacturers that can bear liability for dangerous products, but distributors are often held accountable as well. For example, distributors often acquire legal responsibilities once they formally agree to sell certain products (Morningstar v. Black & Decker Manufacturing Co). For these reasons, the law calls for a reasonable standard of care on the part of BOTH manufacturers and distributors, in order to protect consumers. “Due diligence;” is thus, an important pre-emptive measure against those who would argue that they had no intention to harm or knowledge about the possibility for harm.
The Bottom Line
When corporations choose to release products onto the market, they should be held responsible for the harm those products inflict upon the people who trust them. If you or someone you love has been injured by the careless products released into the auto industry, or any other defective product, it is your right to remind these corporations that you trusted their product and it unfairly caused you harm. These laws exist to protect consumers of all products, including medicines, drugs, food substances and so forth.