The Basics of Product Liability Law


The field that is now termed product liability law evolved over the years out of negligence. Historically, as the industrial revolution produced machines and other products that made both work and living easier, injuries related to these products increased. For much of the nineteenth century, the law was stacked heavily in favor of product manufacturers. This was due in part to the public policy favoring industrial and economic growth, but it was also related to the inability of legal principles established in the medieval non-industrial times to cope with the problems of the industrial revolution.


Work-related Injuries

Work-related personal injuries eventually were covered by worker’s compensation laws that spread the losses due to injuries among employers – regardless of fault. The idea was that such costs could be borne more easily by employers who would profit by their industrial activity than by workers whose injuries often cut off any form of livelihood.

The problem was not as easy when it came to consumers injured by products sold on the open market. As for immediate purchasers of products from manufacturers, the producers of the product could contractually disclaim any warranties or promises concerning product safety. Product users who did not actually purchase the product were said not to be in privity of contract with manufacturer, meaning that absent some contractual or other relationship, the manufacturer had no duty with respect to the user.

Even more problematic in many cases was the inability or injured parties to prove negligence in the manufacturing process. First, the manufacturer typically had exclusive access to the process of production. Second, the product frequently traveled through many hands – such as distributors and retailers – before reaching the user, and the conduct of any of these intervening parties could have been responsible for the injuries that resulted. This is good reason to seek the help of an experienced defective products accident lawyer if you have sustained injuries caused by defective products.

Because of the legal obligations to prove  your case,  this is good reason to seek the help of an experienced defective products accident lawyer if you have sustained injuries caused by defective products.

Negligence Must Be A Factor

Third, in many cases the conduct of the individual user was negligent also. This meant that many injuries went without remedy. The courts, being generally sympathetic to injured plaintiffs, slowly developed theories to provide redress for these product injuries, first in the form of implied warranties that existed without regard to the contractual relationship between the parties, and then in the form of strict product liability.

The theory of strict product liability is fairly simple: one who places a defective product in the stream of commerce may be held liable to a purchaser or user of such product who is injured as a result to its use. As with work-related injuries, the public policy principle is that manufacturers and distributors who profit by the sale of products are in a better position to spread the risk of loss among all consumers as the cost of doing business than are individual product purchasers and users.

While the basic concept of strict product liability is widely accepted today, there are wide variations in the law from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and countless issues are subject to litigation as this field unfolds. For these reasons, product liability is one of the most active and dynamic areas of law practice in the country.