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How Are Businesses Liable for Products Sold to Customers?

Posted in Product Liability

When commercial products harm the average consumer, federal and state laws are in place to hold retailers accountable. Although they may not have been responsible for manufacturing the defective product, they can still be legally liable for selling it.

Business Owners Have a Duty to Protect Their Customers

When a business or retailer advertises an item for sale, they imply that the product is safe and suitable for use. It is their responsibility to ensure a manufacturer or importer provides documentation confirming that a product they are selling complies with all applicable federal consumer product safety laws when applicable. Business owners also have a legal obligation to notify the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) if they receive information that a product may be unreasonably dangerous, creates a significant risk of injury to consumers, or does not comply with CPSC’s regulations. When a business fails to comply with the law and protect consumers, including failing to warn or inform customers of hazards or potential issues with a product, they can be civilly liable for injuries caused by a defective product.

Suing a Business for Selling a Defective Product

Suing a business for a defective product injury falls under product liability law. Product liability claims can be based on strict liability, negligence, or breach of warranty. There are unique elements that must be proven for each type of case. However, you will typically have to establish the following:

  • You used the product as it was intended to be used and not for any other purpose.
  • The product was defective (design defect, manufacturing defect, or failure to warn).
  • The defective product directly caused your injuries.
  • As a result, you suffered financial and/or other losses for which you require reimbursement.

Many product liability claims are based on strict liability because you do not have to prove negligence on behalf of the business that sold the defective product. In other words, the defendant’s (at-fault party’s) behavior usually does not matter, and they can be held liable simply for selling the defective product. However, strict liability does not mean absolute liability. The victim must be able to prove their own careless or negligent actions did not contribute to their injury.

Types of Product Defects

Here are the three most common types of product defects used as grounds for a product liability claim against a retailer.

Design Defect

The product’s initial design makes it inherently and unreasonably dangerous, even when used as intended.

Manufacturing Defect

A defect occurred during the manufacturing process. For example, if low-quality materials were used to cut costs, parts were not assembled correctly, components were left out or damaged, or the product was contaminated.

Marketing Defect & Failure to Warn

A product came with inadequate instructions regarding its proper use or failed to warn consumers of possible dangers associated with its use.

Breach of Warranty

The product became defective while still under warranty.

If your product liability claim is successful against a business that sold you a defective product, you may recover compensation for your losses. For example, economic damages (e.g., medical bills, lost income, etc.), non-economic damages (e.g., pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.), and possibly punitive damages. However, punitive damages are reserved for cases involving a defendant who intentionally caused harm or exhibited an extremely reckless disregard for the safety of consumers.

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