When you purchase any type of product in the marketplace, you rightfully have an expectation that the product will perform as you expect it and certainly as those who sold you the product have promised. The American economy depends on the reliability of the products that are sold and the promise that they will not cause you any injury.
Manufacturers do not have the unlimited right to sell you just anything. Not only do they place their reputation on the line when they are designing and selling products, but they are also putting their assets and business at risk. Manufacturers and sellers have a duty to their customers to sell them safe goods and those that work. If their product is dangerous, they have the obligation to tell you about it ahead of time so you can make the decision whether or not to buy it. If they do not, there are numerous different ways that the sellers can be found liable in court.
Products fail for all sorts of reasons. Manufacturers may make mistakes in the process of designing or making the products. Alternatively, they could be making you promises that these products can do something and these warranties turn out to be worth little more than the paper on which they are written.
In a worst-case scenario, you can be injured or killed by the product that you purchase. Either the manufacturer fails to warn you of a known problem or they may not even realize the danger of the product that they have introduced to the marketplace.
In any event, you have legal rights as a consumer and, if companies violate your legal rights by selling you a defective or dangerous product, they can be held accountable and be made to pay you financial compensation. The Chicago product liability attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers have many years of experience in helping clients who have been injured by products or otherwise suffered damages from the products that they bought. We have a strong track record of assisting customers who been harmed or have not gotten the benefit of the bargain from products that they have purchased.
What to Expect in a Product Liability Lawsuit
Product liability lawsuits can touch on practically anything that you purchase that causes harm. Almost everything in your daily life can be the subject of a product liability lawsuit. This can include food that you buy or medication that you take. Product liability can result from the car that you drive or even something like the battery in your laptop computer.
Injuries can range from minor injuries that are experienced by a large number of people or can be specific major injuries that just you or a loved one have suffered. In the worst-case scenario, a defective product can kill someone. In other words, this is a very broad area of the law that can encompass practically anything in your daily life that you have bought. Damages in these cases can run very high depending on the severity of the injury.
Sample Product Liability Cases
Most of us are familiar with major product liability lawsuits. Many of the large mass lawsuits that have been filed over the years that have resulted in large settlements or verdicts have been product liability lawsuits. Here are just a few example of major product liability lawsuits that have been filed of which you may be aware.
Tobacco - The fact that cigarettes cause cancer and the tobacco manufacturers failed to warn consumers of the danger and, in fact, concealed them is a common ground that you find in product liability cases. Here, tobacco became one of the largest product liability cases ever. The first cases were filed against the tobacco companies in the 1950s and still continue today. Many consumers have been successful in suing the tobacco companies for concealing the danger of the product and marketing light cigarettes as safer alternatives. These have resulted in billions of dollars in jury awards and settlements.
Asbestos - Asbestos is another long-running product liability claim of which nearly everyone is aware. The specific claim is that asbestos, when breathed into the lungs, causes a rare and deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Asbestos was used in many different products for decades and manufacturers continues to make these products even after they knew of the dangers of mesothelioma. Not only have the makers asbestos been forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of these lawsuits, but companies such as auto parts manufacturers and even bowling alleys have faced product liability due to the dangers of asbestos. Sickened employees have received millions of dollars in compensation for a disease that is almost always fatal.
Airbags - Takata Corporation was one of the main manufacturers of airbags in the world for many different makes of cars. However, over 100 million of their products contained a defective canister that contained explosive propellants. This caused the airbags to injure or even kill passengers in numerous ways including exploding or underinflating. Recalls of these airbags have occurred over the course of the past decade and Takata was forced into bankruptcy due to the staggering liability that the company faced.
Roundup Lawsuits - Taken from the recent news, Monsanto, the maker of the weed killer Roundup has faced considerable liability and has been reported to be negotiating to settle the over 50,000 cases filed against it for an amount in the neighborhood of $10 billion. The specific claim is that the main ingredient of Roundup, glyphosate, is a carcinogen that has caused people who have used the product to develop Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. One married couple was awarded an initial jury verdict of $2 billion.
Product Liability for Common Everyday Products
Product liability does not have to be a large-scale mass tort in order for you to be legally entitled to receive financial compensation from the company that either made or sold you the product. Some products in your daily life can be defective or can harm you even if the harm is limited to only you. Here are some examples of common product liability case scenarios that could damage you in your own home, when you are out to eat or even in your own medicine cabinet.
Food poisoning - Some restaurants will serve food that has been tainted. For example, the fast casual chain Chipotle allegedly served food that sickened diners with one of several foodborne illnesses. You can buy eggs in the grocery store that are tainted with salmonella or listeria. All of these cases are product liability actions in which you have been harmed by something that you have purchased to consumer.
Defective toys - You may have purchased a toy with small pieces that easily detach from the main body of the toy. This product could have been marketed to young children, and the small pieces pose a risk that the child can put the small piece in their mouth and choke on it. This could be considered to be a defective design because it is unreasonably dangerous and it could have been designed without the detachable small pieces.
Kitchen knives - Recently, there was a recall of millions of kitchen knives because the sharp steel blades broker during use, causing thousands of users to get lacerations. Thousands of people each year are injured in their kitchen by things such as knives, toasters, blenders or other kitchen appliances. In many cases, it is because they were not properly designed and pose an unreasonable risk.
Medication or pharmaceutical products - One of the most common areas of product liability cases involve cases where consumers are injured by medication. One usual type of claim is that the consumer experiences a side effect that they were not warned about but the company that made the drug had knowledge of this and either concealed the risks or failed to act on it, or both. One major recent example of these are the large jury verdicts against Johnson & Johnson because juries found the company responsible for the fact that consumers developed cancer after using talcum powder that allegedly contained asbestos.
The Legal Theories of Product Liability Lawsuits
There are many different theories that you can use when filing a product liability lawsuit. Generally, you will find that each product liability lawsuit will use several different theories in the same lawsuit and there is nothing preventing you from filing a lawsuit with multiple counts. Here is a little more about some of the types of product liability:
Strict Liability - Product manufacturers must provide you with a product that are not unreasonably dangerous or defective. If the product is defective and you have suffered any physical harm, the seller of the good will be liable to you without any further inquiry. This is true even if the seller took all possible precautions to make the product safe. So long as the state where the lawsuit is filed recognizes strict liability, the lawsuit will try to allege it. However, this is often a difficult ground to prove since courts do not like to hold a seller liable under these circumstances unless the facts are very bad.
Breach of Warranty - When someone sells you a good, they are making an assertion to you at the same time even if they do not make it explicitly. Sure, manufacturers or sellers can make a stated representation when you buy the product and if what they sell you does not live up to what you have been told, then the seller is liable. What you may not know is that there is also an implied warranty when something is sold that what you have purchased will be reasonably safe for ordinary use and will be fit for use for your particular purpose.
Negligence - This is the most common ground in any product liability lawsuit. This product liability ground looks at the actions of the seller in designing and selling the product that harmed you. The seller must act as a reasonable seller that is an expert in manufacturing that particular product would. When a seller of a product is negligent, it means that they to exercise reasonable care for the plaintiff's safety. This would mean that they acted unreasonably in developing, producing, or marketing a defective product.
Design Defects - This focuses on the actual design of a product. A manufacturer has many different choices when making a product including the materials that they use and the way that they are assembled. Sometimes, products are designed in a dangerous way. For example, making a hygiene product out of talc when it could contains asbestos would mean that there is a dangerous product. While some products may be inherently dangerous, other elements of danger in a product are unreasonable and not necessary and that is where there is a design defect.
Manufacturing Defects - In some cases, a product is designed perfectly well, but something goes wrong in the manufacturing process that introduces danger into a product. Somewhere along the line, someone makes a mistake in the manufacturing process that can cause an injury when the consumer uses the product. For example, the blood pressure medication valsartan was recently recalled because the manufacturing process in China and India introduced a carcinogen called NDMA into the medication.
Warning Defects - If there is a known safety issue with a product, the seller has an obligation to warn you. They cannot make pretend that it does not exist and keep selling the product without saying anything to you the consumer. The seller has better knowledge of the product than the buyer and therefore, they must instruct the user or consumer adequately as to product hazards. A seller must warn you about any risk that is reasonably foreseeable although they do not have to warn you about what they do not or cannot know.
What to do if You are Injured by a Product
There are two primary different government regulators in the U.S. that deal with issues of product liability. The Food and Drug Administration handles matters relating to pharmaceuticals, medical devices and food. If you or a loved one have been injured by a product that you believe to be defective, you should fill out a report. The FDA has its own reporting system called for drugs and medications called the FAERS, and you use it to file an online report. Problems with food should be reported by phone by calling either the meat and poultry hotline or by calling the FDA' emergency number.
If you have been injured by a consumer product, the relevant government agency is the Consumer Product Safety Commission. You can file a report online using the website www.SaferProducts.gov or you can file a telephone report with the CPSC's hotline.
Of course, if you have been injured by a product, you should also consult with and retain a product liability lawyer. These types of lawsuits are usually very technical as you have to establish that the product was either defective in some way or the seller acted unreasonably. In order to do this, you will need an experienced and effective attorney on your side. The lawyers at Rosenfeld Injury Attorneys have broad experience in representing injured consumers and they can help you.
Product Liability FAQs
Product liability is a very broad area and there is a lot to understand. Below are some answers to some commonly asked questions about product liability cases.
What Does Product Liability Mean?
Product liability is the legal responsibility that any entity that was involved in selling you a product has if you have been injured by that product.
Product liability can cover a number of different scenarios in which consumers suffer some type of harm from a product that they purchase. In general, there are two broad categories of harm that are covered by products liability cases. The first is when consumers are injured because the product is defective. The second is when the harm comes when the product is not truthfully represented to the consumer.
Many people associate product liability with an injury that comes from a product. In many cases, that is true because a large number of the cases that you hear about on the news are when people suffer serious harm from a product like a medical device. However, there are also product liability lawsuits that do not involve a specific physical injury and the consumer has suffered only an economic loss from the product. Most product liability cases will involve a physical injury.
Who can I sue in a Products Liability Case?
The universe of who you can sue in a products liability case is relatively broad. Anyone who was involved in the "stream of commerce" that resulted in the product being sold to you is potentially liable.
The "stream of commerce" is very broadly defined. It certainly includes both the entity who designed the good as well as the manufacturer of the product. The store that sold you the product, if different than the manufacturer, is also a possible defendant in a products liability case. In other words, anyone who was "an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise" may be a proper defendant in a product liability lawsuit.
Most often, injured consumers will look to hold the manufacturer liable. The good news for potential plaintiffs is that the defendants' liability for the injury will be an absolute number. In other words, the liability is the same no matter who you sue. This means that the defendants are liable for the plaintiff's injury and they will then have to fight it out amongst themselves for who bears what portion of the liability. Other times, courts will apportion the liability between the defendants to the case.
If you are trying to determine the proper defendant to file suit against, it is best to case as broad of a net as possible and include as many entities as possible in the stream of commerce. While it will not impact the amount of your settlement or jury award, it will help you present the most comprehensive case to the court as possible. An Illinois product liability lawyer will help you determine the best defendants to file suit against in your case.
How do I Prove a Products Liability Case?
This depends on what the theory of your case and the specific allegation is. There are various standards of proof in product liability cases.
If you are arguing for negligence in your product liability case, you will have to show that the defendant owed you a duty of care and breached that duty by not acting as a reasonable defendant would in designing or selling the product. You will then have to show that you were injured and that you would not have been injured but for the defendant's actions.
If your lawsuit is based on a breach of a warranty, you will have to show that there was either an express or implied warranty regarding the product and the product did not perform in that manner. These claims are usually based in the Uniform Commercial Code, which has been adopted in Illinois. The UCC generally provides that sellers place safe products into the market and honor all promises they make regarding them. If they breach any of these obligations, consumers have a basis to bring an action for damages.
When trying to prove strict liability, you will need to prove that the product was defective and that it caused injury.
If you are trying to prove that there was a design defect, the standard of proof is that there must have been an alternative design that would have been safer than the design of the product at issue. For manufacturing defects, not only do you have to show that there was a defect in the process of making the product but also that is poses an unreasonable risk to the customer or consumer.
Finally, failure to warn cases require that you show that the seller should have known that, without reasonable warnings, the product would be likely to pose an unreasonable risk of injury or damage.
In general, a plaintiff will likely allege more than one of these grounds for product liability and there are often overlapping elements in each different allegation.
What can I Recover From an Illinois Product Liability Case?
You can recover economic damages and, in cases with serious wrongdoing, you can possibly recover punitive damages.
There are two general types of damages that you can recover in a product liability case. The first type of damages is compensatory damages. These are meant to compensate you for your economic losses from being injured by a defective product. The second type of damages is punitive damages. This is meant to send a message to a defendant who has acted extremely badly. When you see an eye-popping jury verdict against a defendant that runs into the tens of millions of dollars and beyond, chances are that much of the verdict is punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are meant to put you in the same exact position as if you were never injured by the product that you bought. Compensatory damages can include a number of things such as medical bills and pain and suffering. Although pain and suffering is not always the easiest to calculate and can be subjective, it is an essential part of your damage award. You are also legally entitled to lost wages that you have suffered from your injury, both in the past as well as wages that you would earn in the future. There are numerous other parts of compensatory damages that can include:
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Wrongful death
- Property damage
While some states try to cap the amount of damages in product liability and other cases, Illinois has no caps. The state tried in the past to cap damages on some lawsuits but the Illinois Supreme Court struck these laws down and held that it was within the power of judges and juries to decide damages.
Punitive damages are meant to make an example out of the defendant and send an unmistakable message that their conduct was beyond the pale of what is acceptable. Punitive damages will be awarded when there is some sort of egregious corporate conduct that has angered the jury. For example, punitive damages are common in auto crashworthiness cases. For example, in 1999, a jury hit General Motors with a $4.8 billion jury verdict for locating the rear gas tank too close to the bumper. A more recent example of high punitive damages is a $2 billion verdict against Monsanto for its failure to warn consumers that its weed killer Roundup can cause cancer. Instead, Monsanto, which long knew of the possibility, tried to ghostwrite articles that argued the product was safe as opposed to warning consumers.
Does it Matter if the Product had a Disclaimer, Warning or Other Instructions?
It may matter to an extent, but the substance of the warning or instructions is what it important as opposed to whether there was one at all.
The main issue in a failure to warn case is not whether the seller issued any warning, but whether the notice that they gave was adequate. Whether a warning is sufficient could depend on a number of factors including whether the warning is reasonably expected to catch the consumer's attention. Another possible factor is whether the warning gives a fair indication of the specific risks involved with the product. In other words, if there is just a generic warning on the product that does not give any information about this specific product, it would not be an adequate warning.
An acceptable warning should let consumers know about the scope of the danger that could result from the product. Anybody that should foreseeably be threatened from the dangers of the product should be warned. In case of medication dangers, both patients and physicians should be warned.
One thing that a seller should not do is to over warn about each and every single possible danger whether it is likely or not. This makes the other warnings less effective and could take the customer's attention off of warnings of more serious danger. In general, warnings do not have to be perfect, but they must be reasonable in order for the seller to have upheld their duty to warn.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Illinois Products Liability Lawsuits?
In general, the statute of limitations for product liability cases in Illinois is two years for personal injury cases and five years for property damage cases.
One important thing to consider in product liability cases is when the two years begins to run. In some cases, the clock starts to run from the date of purchase of the product. However, you are not always aware that you are injured for many products until years after the fact.
For these cases, the clock begins to ticks when you knew or should have known that you were injured. It would simply be unfair to start the statute of limitations from the time of purchase because the injury generally does not happen on the day that you buy a product. For example, when you are taking defective medication, injuries may not happen until years after you take the medication as the drug takes some time to affect your body.