When people purchase a product at a store, they make a reasonable assumption that it is safe for its intended use. If they take the product home, use it correctly and are injured due to a dangerous defect in the product, they deserve to be compensated for their damages. This is the rationale behind product liability.

Product liability is a legal theory that lets people hold manufacturers and others liable for their damages after they have been injured due to a defective product. It is a very complex area of the law, and the cases themselves can be wildly different from each other. The products involved can auto parts, toys, prescription drugs, medical devices and nearly any other thing you can buy.

Types of product defects

A key point to understand about product liability law is that there are three main categories of defects. These are defects in design, manufacturing and marketing.

A defect in design means the product was unreasonably dangerous as it was designed. Even if it is manufactured perfectly according to plans, something in the design makes it unsafe. For instance, a very fast car that was designed without brakes is defectively designed.

A manufacturing defect comes about when the product itself is designed well, but something went wrong in the manufacturing process that made the product unsafe. For example, an automobile tire might have been designed properly, but if a manufacturer accidentally substitutes an inferior type of rubber for the type that was specified in the designs, it might make the tire prone to blowouts, and therefore unsafe.

A product that has been marketed defectively might be well-designed and well-manufactured but was marketed without adequate instructions or warnings, creating an unreasonable risk of injury.

Who is liable for a defect?

Another important point to understand is that almost any party that had a hand in putting a defective product into circulation may be held liable. For instance, a person injured because of a defective car may hold the auto dealer, a distributor or the manufacturer liable. In some cases, the injured party may be able to hold all of them liable.

Under state and federal laws, some types of product defects carry strict liability. This means the plaintiff does not have to show that any of the defendants were negligent, just that the product defect caused the injury and the damages. This makes the burden lighter for the plaintiff.

That said, none of these cases are easy. Product liability cases often involve highly complex litigation with multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants. Still, they can be crucial ways for the injured to recover compensation for their damages, and important ways to hold businesses accountable when their products hurt people.