If you follow the news closely, you will remember a recent article about how a famous French lifestyle blogger was killed–by an exploding whipped cream dispenser. The shrapnel from the dispenser actually pierced her heart, and she suffered a major heart attack and died as a result. It may seem far-fetched, but after news of her death was released, it was discovered that the product that killed her had previously been reported defective and dangerous by other users. However, there was no recall, and even though the companies that manufactured and designed the product were aware of potential dangers, they still permitted such to remain on the market. This kind of incident is rare, but injuries caused by defective household products are not. Accordingly, if a defective product has injured you or a loved one, what are your options for recovery?
Florida Products Liability Law
When you are unexpectedly injured by a household product, the cause of action generally lies in a theory of law called “products liability.” This refers to liability on the part of all parties within the “chain of manufacturing” of the product, including, but not limited to, the following:
- The designer;
- The manufacturer of the component parts;
- The assembly manufacturer;
- The wholesaler; and
- The retail store.
However, only the owner of a product or the person to whom a product was loaned or given can sue in products liability. This is occasionally extended to a second-hand buyer, but different standards may apply. In Florida, a “products liability action” is defined as a civil action based on either strict liability, i.e., when the product is truly defective when sold, or negligence, breach of warranty, nuisance, or similar theories if the injuries are caused due to defects in the manufacturing process, construction of the product, or design, formulation, installation, or preparation of the product.
Importantly, the injuries suffered must be different than those anticipated through normal use of the product. This means that you likely cannot sue in products liability if you cut your finger on the blade of a blender, but you can if the blender breaks apart while blending and the blade causes injuries to your face.
There are a variety of household products that can cause injuries even during proper use, such as a hot faucet, space heater, or kitchen knives. This is not the same, however, as injuries caused by defective household products, including:
- Baby cribs;
- Power tools;
- Electronics; or
- Kitchen equipment.
For example, a properly assembled baby crib should not come apart in the middle of the night, and if it does, this is likely due to defects in the design and/or manufacturing process. Similarly, faulty electronic components, such as the defective batteries that recently plagued smart phones, are a common cause of household products liability actions. If you plug your phone into charge during the night, it would not normally catch fire and cause injuries. You have an action in products liability against almost all of those in the chain of liability if you are injured as the result of a defective product.
Defenses to Products Liability Actions
There are certain defenses to products liability actions, however, especially if you or someone in the chain made modifications to the product when there was a warning against such. For example, if the product specifically states that you should not open the components compartment or modify the wiring due to a risk of fire, you assume the risk of your actions and likely do not have a cause of action in products liability if the product ignites. Likewise, if the use of the product was not foreseeable by the parties in the chain, then you do not have an action in products liability.
If you use a toaster oven as a step stool and slip, you cannot hold the designer liable. However, if it was foreseeable that something might be put into the toaster that causes injury, this may be compensable. For example, if a child puts a breakfast pastry in the toaster with the wrapper on, and the wrapper melts causing the toaster to catch fire, this may be a foreseeable but unacceptable result. The designer could have included a fail-safe mechanism that would turn-off the power of the components overheated due to a foreseeable use of the product.
Liability in the Products Chain
Often, not every individual in the manufacturing chain is liable in products liability. While the store that sold you the product – as well as the wholesaler – are generally always liable under the theory of strict products liability because they sold you the defective product, if you want to go after the manufacturer and/or the designer, you must show what caused the defect. If you get the design plans for the product and it was clear that lack of a fail-safe mechanism caused the defect and resulting injuries, but the manufacturer made the products in accordance with the designs given, it is likely not a manufacturing defect. In the same vein, if the product was well designed but there was a glitch in the manufacturer’s equipment that caused each product to be manufactured with a defect that caused injury, the designer likely cannot be held liable.
Contact a Clearwater Products Liability Attorney
Products liability actions can be complex due to the various parties in the product’s chain. Who is responsible for your injuries and under what theories of liability will depend on the specific facts of your case including how long you had the product, how it was used, where it was purchased, and how you were injured. It is important to contact a Florida personal injury and products liability attorney as soon as you are injured due to a potentially defective product, as the warranty on the product and the statute of limitations will be ticking. The Dolman Law Group has the experienced Clearwater attorneys you need to fight for your right to compensation after you were injured by a household product. They can analyze the facts of your case. Call them today at 727-451-6900 or contact them online for a free, no-risk consultation.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765