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A manufacturer or seller of a defective product may be liable to a person injured as a result of that defect. This branch of personal injury law is called "products liability." There are a variety of legal claims that can be made in a case involving a defective product, including negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. Under each theory, there are certain elements that must be present in order for the claim to succeed. These are:
- The defendant manufactured or sold the product;
- The product was defective and/or did not function properly;
- The defective product caused damage to a person or property;
- The defect existed at the time the product left the hands of the manufacturer or seller.
What is a "Defective Product"?
Under New York law, a product can be defective in three ways:
- Because of a mistake in manufacturing;
- Because of a mistake in design; and,
- Because of a failure to properly warn or instruct users about the product.
By way of example, a manufacturing defect ordinarily involves a product that is properly designed, but is manufactured in a way that creates a hazard. Faraci Lange represented a man who was injured when a pneumatic nail gun fired unexpectedly. The nail gun had a properly designed safety feature that prevented inadvertent firing, but it failed in this case because it had a flawed spring that broke prematurely.
Defectively designed products encompass an entire line of products made dangerous because of a flaw in the design. The Ford Pinto from the late 1960's is one example. That car was designed in a manner that made its gas tank vulnerable to explosion in the event of a rear end collision. Ford knew of this design defect before the Pinto was first built, but opted not to redesign it after determining it would be cheaper to pay damages in product liability cases than to redesign the car. Faraci Lange has represented many clients who have been injured by poorly designed products.
Finally, a product can be defective because it lacks proper warnings regarding dangers in the product and proper instructions regarding the way the product can be used safely. Faraci Lange has represented hundreds of workers who have been injured or killed by exposure to products containing asbestos fiber. In those cases, we have been able to prove that the manufacturers knew that asbestos could be dangerous to workers, but nonetheless did not warn them about the danger or instruct them on precautions they could take to minimize or eliminate the risk. If you have experienced a defective product in any of the ways described above, contact us through our website here.
What is a Breach of Warranty?
This is a claim derived from the contract of sale between the seller and the buyer. Under New York law, and the law of most other states, certain warranties are implied into the sale of a product. In addition to these implied warranties, called the "warranty of merchantability" and the "warranty of fitness for a particular purpose", some sellers also include express warranties with the products they sell.
The New York Court of Appeals has held that a product that is not "defective" under traditional principles of negligence or strict liability law may nonetheless be in breach of certain express or implied warranties. Therefore, a person injured by a product that is still governed by an express warranty or that is less than four years old should contact a lawyer and consider including a breach or warranty claim in any case filed as a result of the product-related injury.
Who is Liable for a Defective Product?
As a general rule, anybody in the chain of distribution of a product can be liable for an injury caused by a defective product. This includes the manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor and retailer of the product. It does not include causal sellers who sell products infrequently, such as at a garage sale.
What is the Statute of Limitations in a Product Liability case?
A lawsuit alleging injury caused by a defective product ordinarily must be filed within three years of the date of injury. This is true for personal injury cases alleging negligence and strict liability. If a child is injured, the time period does not begin to run until the child reaches age 18. For breach of warranty claims, the lawsuit must be filed within four years of the date of sale. If the injury caused by the product results in death, the wrongful death action must be brought within two years of the date of death. In any case, it is critically important to contact an attorney as soon as possible, and to assume that the shortest limitations period applies.
What do I do if I think I am a victim of product liability?
A person injured by a defective product should contact an attorney as soon as possible after the injury. Products are often complicated and it is not always obvious why a product failed and caused injury. For this reason, it is essential that the defective product be preserved and analyzed promptly after the accident. Indeed, the injured person's failure to preserve the product can in certain circumstances result in the dismissal of their case.
In addition, there are exceptions to all of the general rules discussed above, many of which are dependent on the specific facts of a specific case. For this reason, it is crucial that a person injured by a defective product contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
Is hiring an attorney expensive?
It shouldn't be. A reputable personal injury attorney will not charge you for an initial consultation. So, if you have any questions about injuries you sustained as a result of a product defect, it makes sense to call a lawyer. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee, which means they get paid only if you do. The standard fee is one-third of the recovery. By law, the client is always responsible for expenses incurred during litigation, even if there is no recovery. Those expenses will be subtracted from any settlement before attorney fees are paid. A good personal injury attorney should carefully explain up front the likely costs and fees of a lawsuit, as well as the chances for success. You should be completely aware of the potential costs and likely outcome of your case.