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Holiday Gift Giving & Products Liability: What You Need to Know

The holiday season is officially upon us. Along with the decorations, holiday parties and time spent with family and friends, comes the gift giving and receiving portion of the season. Gift exchanges most often bring gracious smiles and joy. There are, however, times when a product given as a gift—whether it be a bicycle, blender, pool toy or anything in between—does not function the way it should and causes injury. The body of law dealing with these instances, instances where a product results in needless injury to a person, is referred to as “products liability” law. When a product causes injury, it is usually do to what the law refers to as either a “manufacturing defect” or a “design defect.”

A manufacturing defect is present when the product departs from its intended design even though the manufacturer utilized all possible care in the preparation of the product. What this means is that a manufacturing defect can exist even though the manufacturer had top quality control mechanisms in place. If the product reaches the consumer in a form that departed from the product’s intended design, it is clear that the product suffers from a manufacturing defect. Manufacturing defects can arise if the component parts required for assembly of the product were not the exact ones that were specifically required for making the product, or if the product was assembled incorrectly.

A design defect, on the other hand, is a theory of recovery in a products liability claim that essentially asserts that the product caused injury because of a flaw in the product’s design. Design defects fall into one of two categories: inadvertent design errors and conscious design choices. As the name suggest, an inadvertent design error occurs through a mistake made by the manufacturer that results in an ill-suited design that results in injury. A conscious design choice is one that is purposefully made by the manufacturer and thought to be safe in design, however the product still causes injury to someone. In that instance, a plaintiff may argue that a safer alternative product design existed, and for some reason—often because of the increased cost associated with another design—the manufacturer did not utilize the safest option possible. In these types of claims, the plaintiff will argue that the alternative design was safer and a jury is tasked with determining whether, in considering all relevant factors, the alternative design was preferable.

While pursuing a claim for damages in a products liability case involving a manufacturing defect is fairly straightforward, the body of law surrounding the development of design defect claims is a bit murkier. This is because people—including consumers, jurors, judges and product manufacturers—may all have varying opinions as to what a “reasonably safe design” for a product is. Because of this, factors that a jury is often asked to consider include the user’s awareness of the risk, the user’s ability to avoid the harm by using the product carefully, the likelihood that the product would cause harm, the usefulness of the product, and the availability of a safer substitute for the product that would serve the same basic purpose, among others.

As is the case when asserting a defendant is liable based on a general negligence theory, a plaintiff in a products liability case is still required to show causation: that the defect of the product is what actually caused the plaintiff’s injuries. If you believe that a products manufacturing or design defect has caused you injury, I invite you to contact the attorneys at the Dolman Law Group. The law imposes time restraints on the filing of these claims, so please do not delay in starting the first step to enforce your rights: call us today at 727-451-6900.