Intellectual Property | Real Estate | Technology | Software

Product Defects

California & Arizona Product Defect / Personal Injury Law Firm

Vondran Legal understands products defect law and we can help you take on small, midsize and even Fortune 500 or Global 1000 product manufacturers, (and all others in the supply chain, for example distributors of the defective and unreasonably dangerous product, retailers and others involved in bringing the product to market).  Products Defects law requires special attention to detail and a mastery of the product that caused you injuries.  Our law firm has skilled litigation attorneys who are ready to analyze your case and seek money damages in your case.

Overview of Strict Products Liability Law in California

In order to recover money damages for injuries attributable to defective consumer products, you need to show the product was defective and caused injury or damage.  Proving up a products defect case requires a close attention to detail and the facts of your case must be closely examined to make the determination of whether or not you can succeed in your case.

The following is a list of the some of the most important product defects questions and issues: 

1.  What is a defective product?

Generally speaking, a defective product is one that is not safe for normal consumer use.  California courts have recognized three different types of product defects, and strict liability (liability without regard to “fault”) for three classes of product defects:

(a) manufacturing defects; 

(b) design defects; 

and 

(c)  warning defects.

See Anderson v. Owens–Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1991) 53 Cal.3d 987, 995, 281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549.).  A bedrock principle in strict liability law requires that “the plaintiff’s injury must have been caused by a ‘defect’ in the defendant’s product.” See Daly v. General Motors Corp. (1978) 20 Cal.3d 725, 733, 144 Cal.Rptr. 380, 575 P.2d 1162.).

The term “defect” as utilized in the strict liability context is neither self-defining nor susceptible to a single definition applicable in all contexts. In Jiminez v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., supra, 4 Cal.3d 379, 383, 93 Cal.Rptr. 769, 772, 482 P.2d 681, 684, for example, we stated: “A defect may be variously defined, and as yet no definition has been formulated that would resolve all cases or that is universally agreed upon.” Indeed, in Cronin itself, we expressly recognized “the difficulties inherent in giving content to the defectiveness standard” and suggested that the problem could best be resolved by resort to the “cluster of useful precedents” which have been developed in the product liability field in the past decade and a half. (8 Cal.3d at p. 134, fn. 16, 104 Cal.Rptr. at p. 442, 501 P.2d at p. 1162 (citing Traynor, The Ways and Meanings of Defective Products and Strict Liability (1965) 32 Tenn.L.Rev. 363, 373).

Resort to the numerous product liability precedents in California demonstrates that the defect or defectiveness concept has embraced a great variety of injury-producing deficiencies, ranging from products that cause injury because they deviate from the manufacturer’s intended result (e. g., the one soda bottle in ten thousand that explodes without explanation (Escola v. Coca Cola Bottling Co. (1944) 24 Cal.2d 453, 150 P.2d 436)), to products which, though “perfectly” manufactured, are unsafe because of the absence of a safety device (e. g., a paydozer without rear view mirrors (Pike v. Frank G. Hough Co., supra, 2 Cal.3d 465, 85 Cal.Rptr. 629, 467 P.2d 229), and including products that are dangerous because they lack adequate warnings or instructions (e. g., a telescope that contains inadequate instructions for assembling a “sun filter” attachment (Midgley v. S. S. Kresge Co. (1976) 55 Cal.App.3d 67, 127 Cal.Rptr. 217)).  See Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. (1978) 20 Cal.3d 413, 427-28 [143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 235, 573 P.2d 443, 453].

2.  What is a manufacturing defect? 

A common example of a manufacturing defect is a product that differs from other products that come off an assembly line (for example an exploding bottle of coke, five hour energy, redbull or monster energy drink).  As one California court explained:

In general, a manufacturing or production defect is readily identifiable because a defective product is one that differs from the manufacturer’s intended result or from other ostensibly identical units of the same product line. For example, when a product comes off the assembly line in a substandard condition it has incurred a manufacturing defect. See Lewis v. American Hoist & Derrick Co. (1971) 20 Cal.App.3d 570, 580, 97 Cal.Rptr. 798.).

See Barker v. Lull Engineering Co  (1978) 20 Cal.3d 413, 429 [143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 236, 573 P.2d 443, 445]. 

3.  What is a design defect? 

A design defect, by contrast, cannot be identified simply by comparing the injury-producing product with the manufacturer’s plans or with other units of the same product line, since by definition the plans and all such units will reflect the same design. California courts have looked to two basic tests to dtermine, as was set forth by Justice Traynor’s words: “whether there is something “wrong, if not in the manufacturer’s manner of production, at least in his product.”

To summarize the two tests the Court in Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. (1978) 20 Cal.3d 413, 432 [143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 237-38, 573 P.2d 443, 455-56] summed it up nicely:

“a product may be found defective in design, so as to subject a manufacturer to strict liability for resulting injuries, under either of two alternative tests.

(a) First, a product may be found defective in design if the plaintiff establishes that the product failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner.

(b) Second, a product may alternatively be found defective in design if the plaintiff demonstrates that the product’s design proximately caused his injury and the defendant fails to establish, in light of the relevant factors, that, on balance, the benefits of the challenged design outweigh the risk of danger inherent in such design.

4.  What is a warning defect? 

“Generally speaking, manufacturers have a duty to warn consumers about the hazards inherent in their products. See Anderson v. Owens–Corning Fiberglas Corp., 53 Cal.3d at p. 1003 [281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549].) The requirement’s purpose is to inform consumers about a product’s hazards and faults of which they are unaware, so that they can refrain from using the product altogether or evade the danger by careful use. Typically, under California law, we hold manufacturers strictly liable for injuries caused by their failure to warn of dangers that were known to the scientific community at the time they manufactured and distributed their product.  See O’Neil v. Crane Co. (2012) 53 Cal.4th 335, 351 [135 Cal.Rptr.3d 288, 299, 266 P.3d 987, 997].

What types of warnings are needed depend on the type of case.  California courts have recognized several grounds for challenging inadequate product warnings:

“The requisite warning may be of two kinds, each of which may have different implications. First, the manufacturer may be required adequately to instruct the consumer as to how the product should be used. For example, in Midgley v. S.S. Kresge Co. (1976) 55 Cal.App.3d 67, 127 Cal.Rptr. 217, strict liability was imposed when the manufacturer failed to advise users on the proper use and assembly of a telescope, thereby causing serious eye injury to the plaintiff. A second distinctive form of warning is that which informs a consumer (or, in the case of prescription drugs, the physician) of potential risks or side effects which may follow the foreseeable use of the product.

See Finn v. G. D. Searle & Co  (1984) 35 Cal.3d 691, 699 [200 Cal.Rptr. 870, 875, 677 P.2d 1147, 1152].

5.   What does “strict liability” mean?

Strict liability essentially means “liability without fault.”  This means, it does not matter if there was any negligent conduct on part of the product manufacturer, retailer, or distributor, if there was a defective product unreasonably dangerous that caused you personal injury, you are entitled to be compensated.  As one California court discussed the concept of strict liability in product defect cases:

“Retailers like manufacturers are engaged in the business of distributing goods to the public. They are an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise that should bear the cost of injuries resulting from defective products. In some cases the retailer may be the only member of that enterprise reasonably available to the injured plaintiff. In other cases the retailer himself may play a substantial part in insuring that the product is safe or may be in a position to exert pressure on the manufacturer to that end; the retailer’s strict liability thus serves as an added incentive to safety. Strict liability on the manufacturer and retailer alike affords maximum protection to the injured plaintiff and works no injustice to the defendants, for they can adjust the costs of such protection between them in the course of their continuing business relationship. Accordingly, as a retailer engaged in the business of distributing goods to the public, Maywood Bell is strictly liable in tort for personal injuries caused by defects in cars sold by it.  See Vandermark v. Ford Motor Co. (1964) 61 Cal.2d 256, 262-63 [37 Cal.Rptr. 896, 899-900, 391 P.2d 168, 171-72].

In Daly v. General Motors Corp. (1978) 20 Cal.3d 725, 736 [144 Cal.Rptr. 380, 386, 575 P.2d 1162, 1168], the California court held:

“We imposed strict liability against the manufacturer and in favor of the user or consumer in order to relieve injured consumers “from problems of proof inherent in pursuing negligence . . . and warranty . . . remedies.”

So the theory is if a company is held strictly liable for injuries caused by a defective product, they will be more apt to take safety measures.  Proving negligence can be a costly endeavor for Plaintiffs, and experts are normally required, depositions, etc.  So a public policy of strict liability is designed to place the burden on the parties most able to produce a safe product. 

6.  What types of companies can be sued for a product defect that causes personal injury? 

The following companies are generally the types of companies we would look to sue in every product defect personal injury case.

1.  Lawsuits against the manufacturer of the defective product;

2.  Lawsuit against the distributor of the defective product;

3.  Lawsuits against the retailer of the defective product.

And any other companies in the “stream of commerce” responsible for helping to bring the product to market.  Why is this?

“a retailer of manufactured goods also is strictly liable in tort: “Retailers like manufacturers are engaged in the business of distributing goods to the public. They are an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise that should bear the cost of injuries resulting from defective products. In some cases the retailer may be the only member of that enterprise reasonably available to the injured plaintiff. In other cases the retailer himself may play a substantial part in insuring that the product is safe or may be in a position to exert pressure on the manufacturer to that end; the retailer’s strict liability thus serves as an added incentive to safety. Strict liability on the manufacturer and retailer alike affords maximum protection to the injured plaintiff and works no injustice to the defendants, for they can adjust the costs of such protection between them in the course of their continuing business relationship.”  See Peterson v. Superior Court (1995) 10 Cal.4th 1185, 1198 [43 Cal.Rptr.2d 836, 843-44, 899 P.2d 905, 912-13].

7.   What are some common Defendant’s defenses to a strict products liability lawsuit?

a.  Unforeseeable misuse by the end user of the product;

b.  Failure to follow adequate warnings;

c.  Statute of limitations;

d.  Laches;

e.  Defective product is inherently unsafe – the product is “inherently unsafe” and is ‘”known to be unsafe by the “ordinary consumer who consumes the product with the ordinary knowledge common to the community.”

See CC § 1714.45(a)(1);

f.   Others depending on the case.

8.  What is my products defect case worth?

Every products defect personal injury case is unique, and we need to examine your case before we know what it is worth as far as seeking a financial recovery.  Recovery amounts will depend on the nature and extent of the injuries.  What you should know, is that we are in the fight together, and we will fight for every last dime.

9.  Does your law firm handle insurance subrogation matters involving defective products, if so, can you provide an example of a case you would take? 

Yes. Our law firm handles Southwest subrogation cases in California and Arizona.  From small loss to large loss and everything in between.  A common example would be an insurance loss caused by a fire that was started by a defective toaster.  If it can be shown that the defective toaster caused the fire, there would be a potential case for subrogation against the toaster manufacturer, retailer, distributor etc. 

10.   Is Vondran Legal the best personal injury product defect lawyer in California?

It is hard to say who the “best products defect lawyer” in California.  There are all sorts of lawyers out there touting themselves “Superlawyers” and Martindale Hubbell “Peer Review Rated” lawyers.  We believe insurance carriers should not look to labels in making the determination of the best law firm to handle their subrogation cases.

The true test of an insurance subro law firm should be measured by their track record for success in insurance subrogation cases.  In this area, we believe are results speak for themselves.  Contact us to discuss insurance subrogation and to speak with one of our Attorneys.  We believe you will find our level of service and experience level to be exactly what you are looking for.  We offer flexible and aggressive fee arrangements.

Regardless of whether the case involves insurance subrogation, or a pure personal injury case due to a defective product, when it comes to having the capabilities and resources to take your case from initial demand through discovery, and to final verdict we do not believe there is a better products defect law in California or Arizona.

For more information about our products defect practice area, or to speak with one of our insurance subrogation attorneys, contact us at (877) 276-5084 or fill out the form below.

[contact_form]