Product Liability - An Overview of the Law of Dangerous and Defective Products

Author: Jason W. Konvicka, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney

Products liability is an area of the law that relates to the legal responsibility of manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers for defective products that injure those using the products after they enter the marketplace. Various parties may be responsible for a dangerous product. They include the designers of a product, the manufacturers of component parts (parts used to make a product), an assembling manufacturer (the company that takes the component parts and assembles them in to the final product), a packaging and user manual creator (who prepares warnings, instructions, labels, and directions), wholesalers (who sell the products from the manufacturer to retailers), and retailers (who sell the products to the public). The original purchaser of a dangerous product may be the injured party, but other users (someone who borrows the product for example) may be injured as well.

Product liability law differs by jurisdiction. The law in one state may be different than the law in another. However, general principals are the same.  Products liability claims can typically be based on theories of negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. Negligence includes defective design where a product or its components were designed incorrectly and all of the products are dangerous, no matter how carefully they were manufactured. Manufacturing defects involve mistakes or flaws during the manufacturing process where some of the products are manufactured incorrectly. Some products may be safe, but some may not.  Breach of warranty claims arise out of the violation (or breach) of statements made by the manufacturer or seller during the sales process. These claims can involve breach of an express warranty, breach of an implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.  Express warranties include express claims made by the manufacturer or seller about the product, i.e., "this wheelbarrow can carry up to 200 pounds."  Implied warranties cover the expectations that all consumers have about a product's safety, i.e., this product is not unreasonably dangerous if it is used for its intended purpose. Under strict liability theories, the focus is on the product itself and not the manufacturing process. The manufacturer is strictly liable for a dangerous product even if the manufacturer was not negligent in the manner in which it made the product.  Strict liability is not recognized in Virginia for products liability cases. However, negligence and breach of warranty theories are.

Products liability cases can be complicated and are often very expensive to pursue.  Highly trained expert witnesses are often required to investigate and testify regarding the defective product.  Damages witness such as treating physicians, vocational consultants, economists, and other experts are also necessary.  It is not uncommon for a plaintiff's lawyer to invest many thousands of dollars and countless hours to prepare a products liability case for trial.  The lawyers for the manufacturers and retailers of the product may spend even more money defending the lawsuit.  For this reason, plaintiff's lawyers are typically very careful to select only those cases that they believe are meritorious and involve catastrophic injuries and damages.  In addition, before accepting such a case and while he is handling it, the lawyer will usually want to be sure that the client is aware of the risks and difficulties of this type of a case, and has a realistic view of their case.

Even with strict case selection and the investment of substantial time and resources, products liability cases can be very difficult to win.  Therefore, if you believe that you have been injured by a dangerous product, you should take great care to hire a law firm that has extensive experience handling products liability cases.

The attorneys at Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen have substantial experience investigating, litigating, and trying products liability cases. Founding partner, Ashby Allen, obtained one of the first jury verdicts in Virginia against a major car manufacturer in 1950. Since that time, Allen Law Firm attorneys have successfully handled a wide range of cases involving dangerous products.  These include automotive cases involving sport utility vehicle ("SUV") rollovers, roof crush, seat belts, airbags, tires, rims, door locks and latches, fires, 15 passenger vans, conversion vans, and seatback collapse.  Our attorneys have also worked on cases involving lead poisoning; asbestos exposure; dangerous medical devices and drugs; swimming pool accidents involving diving injuries, drowning, and near-drowning; food recalls involving food products containing salmonella, e-coli, and foreign substances; defective car seats or booster seats for children; hunting equipment such as tree stands and defective firearms; household appliances and equipment including ladders, humidifiers, and irons; building equipment and materials including roofing, cranes and bucket lifts; and many other products.  If you or someone you know have been seriously injured as a result of a dangerous product, call the Allen Law Firm. We are here to help.

About The Author: Jason Konvicka is a partner and trial attorney with Allen & Allen in Richmond, Virginia. During his 20+ year career, he has achieved numerous record-setting jury verdicts and substantial settlements on behalf of his clients. His practice focuses on medical malpractice, bus accidents and product liability personal injury cases. Outside of the courtroom, Jason is involved with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and currently serves on its Board of Governors as Vice President.

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