What is a Product Liability Lawsuit?

A product liability lawsuit is a legal claim brought against a manufacturer, retailer, or other party in the supply chain for a defective product that caused injury or harm. 

Product liability law holds companies accountable for releasing unreasonably dangerous products due to design, manufacturing, or marketing flaws. According to recent statistics, over $62 billion is spent yearly on product liability claims in the United States. 

The core principle behind product liability law is that consumers have the right to expect safe products and to seek compensation if harmed by unsafe or defective products. The three types of product liability claims are design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects. 

This article will provide an overview of product liability lawsuits, from the legal framework to real-world examples, to help consumers understand their rights and legal options if injured by a defective product.  

Examples of Famous Product Liability Lawsuits 

Several major lawsuits have shaped product liability law and manufacturing practices. These include the Ford Pinto gas tank explosion lawsuits in the 1970s, asbestos litigation against manufacturers like Johns-Manville in the 1980s, lawsuits against tobacco companies in the 1990s, and more recent litigation against pharmaceutical companies like Merck over the drug Vioxx. 

These examples demonstrated the extensive harm defective products can cause and forced safety standards, warning labels, and accountability changes.

Product Liability and Health: The Case of Asbestos

Asbestos litigation provides a clear example of how product liability lawsuits can be connected to major health issues. Companies like Johns-Manville knew early on that asbestos caused deadly diseases like mesothelioma but covered it up and continued using it in products. 

Asbestos is still the leading cause of occupational cancer, with about 40,000 death annually in the U.S. Resources like Mesothelioma Hope provide information and legal support for victims and families impacted by asbestos illnesses. 

Product liability claims have compensated many of these individuals when companies willfully ignored health hazards.

The Legal Framework Behind Product Liability

There are several key laws and regulations that form the basis for product liability claims in the United States. 

The Restatement of Torts, first published in 1934, established strict liability for unreasonably dangerous products. This means plaintiffs do not have to prove negligence – only that the product was defective and caused injury. 

Other important laws include the Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972, which created the Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate hazardous products and set safety standards. State laws vary, but most have adopted strict liability principles through case law or statutes. 

Most product liability claims involve allegations of negligence, strict liability, breach of implied warranty, or breach of express warranty. Plaintiffs must prove their claim fits within one or more of these legal theories.

Parties Involved in a Product Liability Lawsuit  

Depending on the distribution chain, there are several potential defendants in a product liability case. Manufacturers are often named since they are directly responsible for design and manufacturing. 

Retailers or distributors may also be liable if they sold a product they knew or should have known was defective. Sellers of used products and component part manufacturers can also be defendants in certain situations. 

Plaintiffs must name the correct defendant and establish their responsibility for the defective product.

Criteria for Filing a Product Liability Lawsuit

To successfully bring a product liability claim, several criteria must be met. 

The plaintiff must demonstrate they suffered harm or injury, prove the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous, and show a causal link between the defect and their injuries. Expert testimony is often required to prove design or manufacturing flaws. 

The plaintiff must also show the product reached them in the same defective state. Statutes of limitations require filing within a certain time period after the injury occurs. Thorough evidence gathering and strategic pleading of legal theories are key to meeting the requirements.

Establishing Fault in a Product Liability Case

Plaintiffs have the burden of proof to establish liability based on negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, or a combination. 

  • Negligence claims focus on the defendant’s failure to exercise reasonable care in designing or making the product. 
  • Strict liability examines the product itself rather than the defendant’s conduct. 
  • Breach of warranty involves breaking an express or implied promise about the product’s safety and performance. 

Plaintiffs will gather evidence through discovery and expert testimony to build the strongest case under one or more of these theories.

The Role of Expert Witnesses

Expert witness testimony is crucial in most product liability cases. Experts must prove technical aspects like design defects, manufacturing flaws, or failure to warn about hazards. Engineering and medical experts can show how a fault caused product failure and the plaintiff’s injuries. Marketing experts may provide evidence about misleading advertisements or improper labeling. 

Experts must present credible, convincing testimony based on sufficient data and testing; therefore, selecting qualified experts in the right fields is key.

Possible Outcomes of a Product Liability Lawsuit 

There are several possible outcomes if a product liability claim is successful. 

  • Compensatory damages cover economic losses like medical bills, lost income, and other costs stemming from the plaintiff’s injuries. 
  • Punitive damages may be awarded in cases of gross negligence or malice. 
  • Injunctive relief could force the defendant to alter the product’s design or labeling and launch a recall.
  • Some cases settle out of court through negotiation of a settlement amount. Even if not fully successful, litigation can encourage voluntary changes by manufacturers to improve product safety.

How to Seek Legal Help for a Product Liability Lawsuit?

Those who have been harmed by a defective product should consider consulting a qualified product liability attorney to explore their legal options. Referrals from trusted sources or attorney rating services can help find lawyers with specific experience in this area. 

Many personal injury or consumer protection firms have lawyers who handle product liability litigation. When meeting with attorneys, ask questions about their expertise, case results, fee structure, and resources they will devote to your case. 

You should also be prepared to provide key details and evidence about your injury and the product in question. 

Don’t forget to check for state bar membership and proper licensure.

Tips to Protect Yourself from Defective Products

While product liability law provides recourse after the fact, consumers should also take proactive steps to protect themselves:

  • Research products, companies, and recalls before making purchases
  • Thoroughly read all instructions and warning labels
  • Follow manufacturer guidelines for safe use and maintenance 
  • Promptly report any malfunctions, breakages, or injuries 
  • Keep detailed records of purchases and product experiences
  • Never hesitate to return defective or potentially unsafe products  
  • Sign up for consumer product alerts and newsletters
  • Inspect all products periodically for damage or wear

The Impact of Product Liability Lawsuits 

Product liability lawsuits have motivated significant improvements in manufacturing, design testing, quality control, and transparency. 

Automakers now routinely issue recalls and service bulletins to fix safety defects rather than covering them up. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies provide clearer warning labels about drug interactions and side effects. 

Many companies now have extensive customer feedback and injury monitoring programs. Product liability litigation has also raised awareness of consumer rights and legal recourse. While legitimate claims promote safety, some argue excessive litigation increases prices and stifles innovation. Overall, the threat of liability has made companies more proactive about product risks.


Product liability law provides critical consumer protections by imposing consequences for defective products that cause injury or damage. Lawsuits secure compensation for victims and serve as a deterrent to encourage companies to prioritize safety in design and manufacturing. 

Consumers have a right to safe products, complete risk information, and recourse if harmed. 

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