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When Is a Manufacturer Liable For a Product?

Home Blog Product Liability When Is a Manufacturer Liable For a Product?

According to a study by the Insurance Information Institute, the average award in a personal injury product liability lawsuit was over $7 million in 2020. If your company is currently facing a product liability lawsuit, it is essential to realize that you, too, are at risk of losing millions of dollars. Such a loss can damage large companies and devastate small businesses. Learn about the various types of product liability lawsuits, defenses against these claims, and how a skilled product liability lawyer can help to protect your business.

The Difference Between Strict Liability and Negligence in West Virginia

In product liability cases, it is essential to understand how negligence and strict liability differ in West Virginia.

What is Negligence?

Negligence refers to the failure to meet certain legal standards of care when manufacturing or designing a product.

As the manufacturer, you must take all reasonable steps to ensure your products are safe for consumers. Failing to do so can be an allowable cause of action that leads to a claim of negligence, where you can be found responsible for any resulting injury or wrongful death.

To put it into other words, a claim of negligence focuses on the actions of your manufacturing company and not on the product itself.

What is Strict Liability?

A strict liability claim differs from negligence in that the focus falls directly on the product. As such, this type of claim does not require proof of intentional wrongdoing or negligence by the manufacturer. A company can be held responsible if it releases products to the public that directly cause harm (e.g., personal injury or death).

For strict liability, the plaintiff must prove that the product was unreasonably unsafe at the time of purchase, the product was used as intended, and the injured party suffered harm. If the plaintiff cannot prove these elements, your attorney can move for summary judgment, and the case may be dismissed.

However, it is important to note that a plaintiff’s injury attorney will often plead all available product liability claims, including negligence and strict liability. Legal defenses will vary depending on what the plaintiff asserts.

When Can a Manufacturer Be Held Liable for a Defective Product?

woman reading directions

As the manufacturer, the court can hold you wholly or partially liable for the defective product regardless of whether negligence was involved. This is the case whether you manufacture medical devices, consumer products, or any other marketable item.

A strict liability lawsuit only requires that the plaintiff prove they were injured while using the product as intended or in a reasonable manner. It does not require negligent behavior on your part.

Types of Product Defects

The common types of product defects include the following.

Design Defects

Flaws or defects in the actual design of a product can make it unsafe or dangerous. Failure to test the particular product before placing it on the market is also considered a design error.

Manufacturing Defects

While the design of your product may be safe, mistakes can occur during the manufacturing process and lead to defects. Such defects can occur along an assembly line or elsewhere in the process.

Lack of Adequate Warnings

It is the responsibility of each manufacturer to test every product and include clear warnings of any potential dangers or hazards. For example, if a product contains tiny parts, the manufacturer must warn about the risks involved for children under three. Failure to provide adequate warnings classifies as a defect and can leave a company liable for any resulting injuries.

Defenses Against Strict Liability in West Virginia Product Liability Lawsuits

In West Virginia product liability lawsuits, specific defenses are available to companies, including the following.

Product Did Not Cause Plaintiff’s Injury

For a successful product liability claim, the plaintiff must prove that the product is the proximate cause of the injury in question. One defense against such a claim is that some other event, occurrence, or factor is the real cause behind the injury. For example, your attorney may be able to prove that the injury was pre-existing or the product is in no way responsible for that type of injury.

Plaintiff Negligence

A solid defense in product liability cases is that the plaintiff was negligent in using a product in some way, which contributed to the resulting injuries. With this defense, your lawyer can deflect liability away from your company, or it can lessen the amount of damages you are responsible for paying. How it affects the amount will depend on whether your state follows contributory negligence or comparative negligence laws.

West Virginia law follows comparative negligence, meaning that as long as the plaintiff is not over 50 percent responsible for the injury, they can still recover financial compensation for damages, including medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and more. However, according to state law, the court will reduce the total amount by whatever percentage of responsibility the plaintiff shares.

Assumption of Risk

When a product is in some way inherently dangerous, it is expected that the user understands this and knows how to avoid the danger. In other words, a person voluntarily accepts certain risks by purchasing and using dangerous products.

A defense based on the assumption of risk centers on the argument that any reasonable person would have known that the product at the center of the lawsuit could potentially cause personal injury, even during expected usage.

Past the Statute of Limitations

Under the statute of limitations in West Virginia, a plaintiff has two years from the injury date (or discovery of the injury) to file a lawsuit claiming product liability. Failing to file a lawsuit within the defined legal timeframe can be a valid defense, and if proven, West Virginia courts will most likely dismiss the case.

Breach of Warranty

Warranties can include provisions requiring the purchaser to notify the manufacturer of a personal injury claim before filing any lawsuit. If the plaintiff failed to provide proper notice of a claim following written or express warranty requirements, your product liability lawyer may use a breach of warranty defense.

Compliance with Government and Industry Standards

Hazardous chemical storage checklist

Another defense in certain product liability lawsuits is that the manufacturer complied with all government and industry standards, meeting the safety requirements imposed on such product design and manufacture.

The Importance of Hiring an Experienced West Virginia Product Liability Lawyer

Product liability lawsuits involve complex and challenging investigations and litigation, requiring the skills of a knowledgeable and competent legal team from start to finish. Ways your company will benefit from hiring a skilled West Virginia product liability lawyer include the following.

Risk Mitigation

An experienced product liability lawyer will work with your company on risk mitigation to limit your potential for threats and lawsuits, thus reducing your exposure to claims.

Access to Resources

Product liability lawsuits benefit from access to a network of investigators and experts to help build a strong defense strategy. Choosing the right law firm will be crucial in this regard, as available resources will be critical to the success of your case.

Allocation of Risk

In product liability lawsuits, several parties may be involved and can be found liable for a defective product, including the product manufacturer, distributors, and even the retailer. Identifying who is at fault through various investigations is essential.

Representing You in Court

When it comes to liability lawsuits, an attorney who understands product liability law and has trial experience will be able to represent you in court should your case progress that far. It will also help if that attorney has experience in personal injury cases.

Protect Your Business From Product Liability

When it comes to your business, taking steps to prevent product liability lawsuits is imperative. If your company is involved in a product liability lawsuit, contact the attorneys at Orndorff Mowen. We have the experience, skill, and resources to help build a strong defense and represent you in settlement negotiations and, if necessary, in court. Our client relationships are our top priority, and we will go the extra mile to defend your company. Schedule an initial consultation today by calling 866-481-2765 or using the contact form found on our website.