If someone hurts themselves on a product, that is not proof that the product was defective. Some items are inherently dangerous and require extra care, and sometimes unexpected accidents occur. Something as safe as a dog’s squeaky toy could be tripped over, hurting the owner. Even though that injury did occur, and the product was involved, that is not the fault of the product or its maker. Product liability lawsuits only work when the plaintiff can prove that the product directly caused their injuries, and there was no reasonable way to expect or avoid the danger. Here are some common defenses you can use against product liability in court.
- Challenge the Statute of Limitations
Technicalities matter, especially in a courtroom. Product liability lawsuits have a statute of limitations. In South Carolina, the statue is 6 years from the time of discovery. It is possible to show the court that the statue of limitations has passed, invalidating the case. That is the simplest, best case scenario.
You may need to challenge the time of discovery in a more technical manner. “Time of discovery” is an important term in a product liability case. This is the moment that the plaintiff was officially diagnosed, not the moment that they started to feel uncomfortable. This technically gives a plaintiff more time to sue, as their injuries may have been noticed one day but diagnosed much later. However, through investigation, you could discover that the plaintiff’s timeline is wrong, and they’ve based their lawsuit on the time of discomfort, not the time of discovery. If that happens, the case could potentially be thrown out.
- Challenge the Origin of the Product
Even if your company made and released the product, you could argue that you are not responsible for all of its parts. If your product worked fine otherwise, but there was a faulty gear or battery that originated from another manufacturer, you can argue that the liability truly belongs to them. You signed an agreement to use their parts in your widget, and their faulty parts were responsible for causing injury.
Manufacturing chains can be opaque. Perhaps you distribute the product and put your name on it, but your company has nothing to do with its manufacture. In this case, you can argue that, again, the fault lies with someone else, not you.
Drug manufacturers can greatly benefit from this defense. With the genericizing of medicines, the plaintiff may not actually be aware of who manufactured the product that injured them. It may have been another company altogether.
- Challenge the Plaintiff’s Use of the Product
If someone uses a product outside of its normal intention, you cannot be held responsible for their injuries. Darts are dangerous items with pointed ends and an aerodynamic design that allows them to fly toward a target. If two people were throwing darts at one another instead of at a dart board, the manufacturer should not be held responsible for their resulting injuries. This example is a little outlandish, but the truth of it is sound. If your spinning saw is designed to cut wood, it isn’t your fault when someone uses it to cut a lead pipe and hurts themselves. Have your lawyers thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the plaintiff’s claim. If that plaintiff misused the product, even in the slightest way, the liability for their injuries may not fall on you.
Similarly, the lawsuit can be invalidated if the plaintiff altered the product. Many people these days enjoy doing DIY work on their belongings, and there are many YouTube channels about just that. Once a product has been fundamentally altered, the manufacturer cannot be held responsible for its use. Product liability suits are fundamentally based on the idea that the product you released was defective, and that defect caused an injury. Your building, designing, and labeling of the product is what’s on trial. When someone alters the way the product works, you shouldn’t be held responsible for the consequences.
- Use the “State of the Art” Defense
If your company is on the leading edge of new products and innovations, you may be able to employ the “state of the art” defense. Essentially, you are claiming that you were using the best available knowledge to build your product. There were no other known options to make your product safer, and you used the most advanced techniques to build your widget.
- Claim “Assumed Risk”
Some products are inherently dangerous, such as construction equipment. The plaintiff assumed a certain amount of risk just by using the item. For example, spinning saws and nail guns carry with them a risk of use, no matter how experienced the user is. Mistakes sometimes happen, and they are no one’s fault. If someone hurts themselves on a spinning blade, it may have been a simple mistake on their part, a mistake that could have happened to anyone. As unfortunate as that situation is, it is simply not the fault of the manufacturer. The essential element of a product liability suit is the claim that a fault in the product directly injured the plaintiff. If the plaintiff hurt themselves on an intrinsically dangerous item, but it wasn’t due to a flaw in that item, they should be held responsible for their own actions.
If you are facing litigation from a defective product claim, call us today. We have experience defending professionals from false allegations. Our number is (843) 968-0886, and you can contact us online.