Most Americans are at least passingly familiar with the legal concept of liability; it’s the responsibility borne by all citizens, companies, agencies, and other entities to act in a certain manner. Negligence is a similar term that describes a person’s failure to exercise reasonable care in order to avoid hurting another individual or damaging property.
But what is product liability? How can an inanimate object be responsible? Attorney Ralph Chapa, who specializes in product liability as well as other types, explains the topic in simple terms.
Of course, no one actually thinks that a hoverboard, a bottle of facial cleanser, or an over-the-counter heartburn remedy has liability or is “responsible” in the same way we consider humans to be responsible. In fact, there are people behind every manufactured item, and they are the ones who are ultimately held accountable for their negligence. By allowing the product to be sold or distributed, whether or not they knew of any potential damage, defect, or danger caused by that product, they are failing to exercise reasonable care.
The law stipulates that any product that is sold or otherwise distributed must meet the consumer’s ordinary expectations, explains Ralph Chapa. If there is a problem with the product and it presents a danger to the consumer or any other user, it cannot be said to meet those ordinary expectations.
Ralph Chapa goes on to say that there are three types of problems that might give way to liability. They are, defectively manufactured products, products that are defectively designed, and failure on the part of the manufacturer or distributor to provide adequate warning or instruction.
Products that are defectively designed are dangerous right from the get-go. They can be described as poorly designed. A top-heavy SUV that has a tendency to roll over when it drives around a tight corner is an example of a defective design. All the SUVs of this type have the same problem.
According to Ralph Chapa, defectively manufactured products have been well-designed, but are put together incorrectly, due to human or machine error. They could include a medicine that contains a poisonous substance or a shelving unit that is missing several screws.
Marketing defects are improperly labeled, may fail to warn users of potential danger, or have insufficient warnings. Some examples include: a topical ointment or salve that fails to print a warning on the tube telling consumers not to ingest it; a coffee cup from a fast-food restaurant that doesn’t have the words “Caution: Coffee Is Extremely Hot” printed on it; or a doll that is intended only for children ages 8 and up, because it contains small parts that could pose a choking hazard, but that doesn’t include a warning about keeping it away from younger kids.
Product liability, in the opinion of Ralph Chapa and his colleagues, is one of the most fascinating branches of law. Proving that a company or individual was negligent in designing, manufacturing, or marketing a product can be difficult to prove. However, doing so in a court of law can lead not just to a tremendous payout for the plaintiff and a great deal of satisfaction for the attorney, but also to a safer society for everyone.