Every year defective products claim the lives of innocent people. If you or a family member has been injured or suffered other damages because of a product you used, you may have a claim against the manufacturer, retailer, or distributor for a defective product. Maybe a saw you were using to cut a tree branch did not perform correctly, or a car seat failed in an accident, or perhaps an appliance caught fire and caused damage to your home. It is possible that a defect in the product you were using could be the cause of your injuries or other damages. In that situation, you could bring a claim against the manufacturer to recover your damages.
Do You Have a Defective Product Claim?
In determining whether you have a valid defective product claim, it is best to bring an experienced product liability attorney on board to investigate the product, issue discovery requests (questions, essentially, and requests for documents) to the manufacturer, retailer, or distributor to learn more about how the product was manufactured, tested, and what warnings or other safety gear were supplied with the product. A large portion of defective product claims hinge on whether the consumer was using the product correctly and as intended by the manufacturer.
In order to win a product liability claim, you need to prove:
- You were injured or suffered losses
- The product is defective
- The defect caused your injury
- You were using the product as it was intended
Was the Product Defective?
There are many different types of defects products can have that can cause injury. Our minds first think of tires that shred on the interstate, electrical devices that give off electrical shocks, or appliances that catch fire. But, there can also be defects in the warnings or safety accessories provided with the product that also cause injury. Here are some common types of product defects that can lead to injury:
This would be an error that occurred when the product was manufactured. For example, there was a crack in the glass pot that came with your coffee maker and it made the pot shatter and burn you. Another example would be a failure to assemble certain parts together, say on a child's car seat, and the seat then did not perform correctly in an accident. If you are dealing with a manufacturing error, proving the defect of the product may be fairly easy. Proving an error in the actual design of the product often proves more difficult.
There is one question you must answer to prove a design defect: Is the product, as designed, unreasonably dangerous? Note: some level of danger in a product is sometimes necessary for the product to be able to perform its intended function. A knife, for example, needs to be sharp to be useful. Meaning, if the sharpness of the knife is what caused your injury, you will not have a claim. However, if handle was fastened to the blade in a poor manner that caused the blade to easily slip out and cut you, this may support a design defect claim against the manufacturer.
This is just one among many examples. Determining whether the design of a product is unreasonably dangerous can be far more complicated than a faulty handle. This is the reason you should contact an experienced product liability attorney if you have been injured by a product. For example, you may not know it could be argued the reason your lawnmower kept accelerating and cutting after you were thrown off is because it lacks a necessary safety feature that kills the engine once there is no one sitting in the driver's seat. If you don't know how certain features of products operate and what safety precautions and warnings are necessary to protect consumers, you may not know you have a defective product claim, and you may lose your ability to recover your damages from the manufacturer responsible for your injuries.
Failure to Warn
If the defect in the product is an insufficient warning, you will need to prove you were not adequately warned of the danger of the product. In these cases, liability may be established by proving the warnings and instructions provided by the manufacturer or supplier were not reasonably sufficient.
For example, if you are injured using a forklift because it tipped over with too much load, you may have a failure-to-warn claim if the warning for this particular occurrence was too obscure, ineffective, or lacking altogether. However, if the forklift came with bright red and yellow warnings about the potential for tipping if the lift is loaded with too much weight, your claim would be weaker. In addition, if those stickers were removed by someone else before you used the lift, this would make it difficult to establish liability against the manufacturer because the product warnings were modified post-manufacture.
Did the Defect Cause Your Injury?
Not only must you prove the product is defective but also that it was, in fact, the defect that caused your injury. Let's say a fire ignites in your home while you are cooking. Thankfully, you and your family evacuate safely, but your kitchen suffers extensive damage and the rest of the house is ruined with soot and ash. You learn the particular type of oven you were using has been known to have propane leaks, causing fires. However, if an investigation by the Fire Marshall shows it was defective wiring of the oven during install that caused an electrical fire, not a fire ignited by propane, this would be an example of a potential product defect, but one that did not cause your damages.
Uncovering the cause of an injury or property damage often requires expertise and can be costly and complicated. This is why it is best to bring in an experienced product liability attorney to help you properly investigate your claim, preserve and create evidence that supports your claim, and, in most cases, help front the cost of proving your claim.
At Taylor, Warren, Weidner & Hancock, we handle most product liability cases on a contingency basis. This means we will cover the costs necessary to hire experts and preserve evidence. You will not be required to reimburse our fees and costs unless you are paid by the responsible party. And, when you bring an experienced product liability attorney on board, it is likely you will recover far more than you would have without an attorney assisting you.
Were You Using the Product as It Was Intended?
Broadly speaking, you must have been using the product in a way that the manufacturer intended consumers to use it. For example, if you are injured while using a step ladder that failed, the manufacturer may not be responsible if you rigged the ladder up in a manner that was not intended.
If you laid the ladder down horizontally to create a makeshift bridge from one rooftop to the other, and this is how the injury occurred, this would like not be an intended use of the ladder that would allow a defective product claim against the ladder manufacturer. Another example is using a saw without the accompanying guard. However, arguments can be made that the allegedly “unintended use” was anticipated by the manufacturer if there is sufficient industry evidence to show the manufacturer was aware consumers were using its product in a different way.
Overall, if you were injured while using a product in an unintended manner, this may prove fatal to your defective product claim. Always read all manuals and safety instructions that are provided with products to ensure you are using them in a safe manner and in a way that was intended by the manufacturer.
Four Year Statute of Limitations
In Florida, many causes of action are subject to what is referred to as a "statute of limitations.” A statute of limitations is basically a deadline, that if you do not meet, you lose your right to pursue your claim. In Florida, the statute of limitations for personal injuries caused by a product defect is four years. Meaning, you must file suit on a defective product liability claim within four years from the date of the accident in order to be able to recover from the responsible manufacturer, retailer, or distributor.
While four years may seem like a long time, often most accident victims are consumed initially with treating the injury that has turned their lives upside down. You are dealing with medical bills and appointments, trying to get back to work and get your life back to normal. It may be months before the thought of pursuing a defective product liability claim crosses your mind. While time is passing you may not know that your right to sue for your injuries is ticking away.
Why You Need an Experienced Product Liability Attorney
If you or a family member has suffered an injury or other damages as a result of a defective product, making sure that your claim for injury as a result of a defective product meets all of the necessary requirements in Florida to recover damages from the manufacturer, retailer, or distributor, can be a complicated, time-consuming, and costly process. The best way to find out if you have a viable case and whether it is worth pursuing is to contact an experienced product liability attorney like the attorneys at Taylor, Warren, Weidner & Hancock. We never charge an initial fee or cost to simply talk to you about what happened and advise you of your rights. If you have been injured by a product, do not hesitate to contact us to preserve your ability to recover from the responsible party.