Manufacturers of dangerous products are liable for damages under product liability law. Liability actions can also be brought against anyone in the supply chain, including wholesalers, suppliers of component parts, or the retail store that sells the product to the consumer. Pennsylvania recognizes three possible claims arising out of defective products: negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. Strict liability is based on establishing that a defective product was unreasonably dangerous when sold. Each of the following is considered a potential claim for damages:
A flaw in the design of a product making it unduly dangerous is one source of liability. Design defects occur when the engineering or design process used by a company to design a product is faulty, resulting in a product that is unnecessarily hazardous to consumers. With a design defect, all of the items that come off a company's assembly line are uniformly defective in the same way.
A product may have an acceptable design but still be defective if it is manufactured improperly. It may have become flawed during assembly from an error in the manufacturing process or from an attempt by the company to cut corners to save money. Since the product does not even meet the standards of the company’s own design, the manufacturer’s own documents can be used to prove that the product is defective.
Improper labels, unclear or incomplete instructions, or the lack of proper warnings to consumers about a product’s hidden dangers may also create liability. Pharmaceutical companies have faced product liability suits for not clearly warning consumers about possible dangerous side effects.
Breach of Warranty
In a breach of warranty action, a plaintiff can recover damages by demonstrating that a produce did not live up to the express or implied warranties that accompanied the product when marketed or sold. Products may be unreasonably dangerous for their intended use, or generally violate the implied warranty of merchantability. Product liability law ultimately leads to safer products, thereby providing benefits to all consumers in this country.
Examples of Product Liability Claims
When pharmaceutical giants Merck and Pfizer both developed a so-called “super aspirin” that could ease arthritic pain without the common stomach ailments that were common in similar medications, the marketing blitz was enormous. Both companies spent billions of dollars in advertising, and arthritis sufferers everywhere were told in magazines, newspapers, radio and television to ask their doctors about Vioxx or Bextra.
But both Merck and Pfizer covered up in-house studies that indicated that heart patients who took these drugs were risking an increased chance of heart attacks and strokes. The marketing campaign continued unabated for years while Merck and Pfizer stonewalled the FDA and buried the damaging reports. Merck finally pulled Vioxx off the shelves in 2004, while Bextra, which also has been linked to severe and sometimes fatal skin diseases was only recently recalled in late 2005.
In 1971, the A.H. Robbins Company released this Inter-Uterine Device (IUD) to American women with an enormous marketing campaign. At the height of its popularity, close to 3 million women were using the device. Within a year, A.H. Robbins was receiving complaints of women suffering from pelvic inflammatory disease and tubal infertility, as well as cases of ectopic pregnancies and septic abortions. After twelve Dalkon Shield-using women died, the device was finally pulled off the market in 1974. The fault lay in the design of the device, which left women vulnerable to bacterial infections.
More recently, Johnson and Johnson released the Ortho-Evra Birth Control Patch in 2002. This patch introduced a much higher level of estrogen into the body than conventional oral contraceptive methods, and this higher level of the hormone caused defensive clotting mechanisms in some of its users. These clots would travel throughout the body, which put the users at risks for heart attacks and strokes. Subsequently, the New York Post reported in September of 2004 that, according to internal FDA documents, 17 users of the patch had died of heart attacks since 2002.
For years, contractors and construction and textile manufacturers used cancer-causing asbestos in their products. Asbestos damage can have a latency period of up to thirty years, and hundreds of construction and mill workers died of asbestos-related illnesses before Congress outlawed its use in 1970.
Steps to Take if Injured from a Defective Product
If you are injured by a defective product, it is important to gather as much information as soon as possible. Record what happened, get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses, and anything else you feel should be recorded. Take photographs of the product and the injuries. If at all possible, save the product and each of its parts. Having as much information as possible is incredibly helpful to you and your attorney during the claims process. The purchase of products should never be a gamble, and certainly shouldn’t put the lives of you and your loved ones at risk. If you have been involved in an incident with a product that should have been safe but wasn’t, call today for a free consultation.
It’s an important issue. Every year, Americans are injured or killed by products that were either poorly designed, poorly manufactured, or were improperly labeled. The National Consumer Product Safety Commission has a list of recalled products ranging from fireplaces to candles to lawnmowers.
Even though the national trend is often pro-business and anti consumer safety, the law still protects the rights of those who are injured by using products that are not safe for their intended purpose. Having an attorney with a proven track record of successful product liability cases is crucial to obtaining fair compensation for your injuries.