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Product Liability Litigation

Written by Kathleen Gagne
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Product liability litigation is the result of a claim brought by a person or group of persons who have suffered injury or death as a result of the reasonable use of a product. Manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers can all be the defendants in a product liability lawsuit. Any product you purchase and use, including medicines and medical devices, tobacco, appliances, toys, automobiles, food, and more can be the subject of product liability litigation.

The Development of Product Liability Litigation

Historically, the common law in England, which was carried over to the United States, considered the sale of every product as a commercial transaction/contract. In this limited context, only the seller or the buyer (the parties to the contract) could sue for redress. In the early part of the twentieth century, the laws in the United States began to change. Now anyone injured by a defective product has the right to sue. That can include, for example, a carnival that buys a defective ride, persons on the ride when the product failed, and even persons hurt when debris from the broken ride hit them.

A defective product is defined as any product that is unreasonably dangerous for its intended use. Claims can be made about that product on the basis of strict liability, breach of implied or express warranties, and negligence. When using a product that is inherently dangerous, such as a chainsaw, the issue becomes whether the product is unreasonably dangerous. Unreasonably dangerous might be that the actual chain keeps flying off or the handle is so fragile it cracks under normal use.

Product Liability and the Courts

There are hundreds of thousands of product liability cases brought to courts every year. One or more of the above bases for claim must be proven by the injured party's attorney in order for the courts to take action. The process can be lengthy and difficult, but today most of the products we buy are safer because product liability litigation has an impact that can reach farther than the defendants to change an entire industry. Manufacturers' awareness of the potential for costly litigation and awards alone can be the basis of change.

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