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Who’s Liable in Product Liability Cases

determining liability in product defect cases

It’s Not Just About the Product: It’s About Who’s Liable When Things Go Awry

Do you wonder who’s accountable for faulty products? Product liability lawsuits are confusing. Defective products cause injury, thus victims seek compensation. If you find yourself in this situation, you need a trustworthy California product liability attorney.

They can help you navigate the complexities of product liability law and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

Quick Summary

Below is an overview of the key points of this article.

  • Product liability law is about holding those responsible for injuries caused by faulty products accountable. It’s important because we all buy products, and sometimes these products can cause harm.
  • Product liability applies to all types of products, from everyday items to industrial machinery. If a product causes harm, injured individuals and their families may seek compensation through civil lawsuits, known as “torts.”
  • Product liability cases generally fall into three categories: manufacturing defects, defective designs, and failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions.
  • Manufacturing defects involve injuries caused by products that were defectively manufactured. The defect must be directly linked to the injury.
  • Defective designs mean the design of the product is inherently dangerous or flawed, irrespective of perfect manufacturing. The injury must result from the product’s defective design.
  • Failure to warn claims arise when a product lacks sufficient warnings or instructions, especially if the dangers aren’t obvious. The injury must result from this lack of warning.
  • After sustaining an injury from a defective product, seek medical attention promptly. Collect evidence, including photos and witness statements, and contact an attorney.
  • Parties potentially liable in product liability cases in California include retailers, wholesale distributors, original manufacturers, product designers, and marketers who pushed sales.
  • You have a limited time to file a product liability claim after discovering the injury or property damage caused by the product in California.
  • In some cases, a defendant can be strictly liable for injuries caused by a product, even without wrongdoing. This applies when a product is more hazardous than it should be or lacks proper warnings.
  • Manufacturers must anticipate how consumers might use or misuse a product. If the use or misuse is reasonably foreseeable and causes harm, the defendant can be held liable.
  • Compensation for product liability claims includes economic losses (medical expenses, lost income, property damage) and non-economic losses (pain, suffering, loss of consortium).
  • Defendants may argue that the plaintiff’s actions contributed to the injury. In California, damages can be reduced based on the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff.
  • Manufacturers and distributors often vigorously defend against product liability claims due to their potential impact on financial stability and liability for other consumers’ injuries.

What is Product Liability?

Accidents caused by defective items are the focus of product liability law. It’s a vital field of law because we all buy items, from farmers buying tractors to parents buying toys for their kids.

What Does Product Liability Apply To?

Product liability applies to all products, regardless of size or complexity. It includes everyday products, industrial objects, and other commodities and services. Some examples include:

  • Automobiles, including cars, trucks, and motor vehicles
  • Machinery for metal shaping, like press brakes and punch presses
  • Industrial equipment, such as commercial conveyors and robotic machinery
  • Aircraft, including airplanes, helicopters, and aviation devices
  • Personal transportation devices like bicycles, scooters, and hoverboards
  • Agricultural and construction machinery, ranging from bulldozers to excavators
  • Household items like TVs, electronics, and furniture
  • Common kitchen appliances, such as coffee makers, blenders, and other household gadgets


Product liability rules apply to these and other public goods. This means that victims and their relatives may be able to sue via civil litigation, known as “torts.”

What Are the Types of Product Liability Claims?

Although there can be various kinds of product liability cases, they typically fit into three main categories:

Manufacturing Defects

The most common product liability suit is for defectively made products. Manufacturing defects are caused by errors during production.

This issue may have occurred in the product’s manufacturer. Instances of a product with a manufacturing defect encompass:

  • An elevator equipped with a manufacturing flaw in its pulley system, resulting in the car collapsing or falling and causing harm to passengers.
  • A vehicle missing a crucial steering component, leading to a loss of control while driving.
  • A bicycle with a manufacturing defect in its steering bar, leading to loss of control for the cyclist.
  • Children’s jewelry or toys found to contain hazardous levels of lead, posing potential toxicity risks.


The injury must be directly related to a manufacturing defect to file a product liability claim. If your vehicle went off the road owing to a malfunctioning steering system, you can file a product liability claim if you can prove that the steering issue caused the accident and injuries, not your mistake.

Defective Design

A product’s design is dangerous or flawed in such cases. This product liability lawsuit is not related to manufacturing faults.

Instead, they argue that all items are dangerous, regardless of whether the one that caused the damage was made exactly as the manufacturer instructed. Here are some prevalent instances of design defects:

  • A pelvic mesh device that deteriorates within the body, leading to harm to internal organs due to its flawed design.
  • An SUV with a subpar design that tends to tip over when the driver navigates curves.
  • A poorly designed coffee maker that releases scalding liquid, resulting in burn injuries to users.
  • An inclined sleeper with a defective design poses a risk of accidental suffocation for children.


The injury must be caused by a defective design that renders the product dangerous to prove product liability. Use a product outside its intended usage and your claim may be denied. Support your argument with evidence that the product was inherently and defectively created.

Failure to Warn

The another type of product liability lawsuit involves inadequate warnings or instructions for proper usage. Consumers sometimes don’t realize things contain hidden dangers.

These scenarios may include materials that require particular handling. Here are a few instances that could lead to a failure-to-warn claim:

  • Child car seats and booster seats need clear instructions for proper installation; without them, they may not provide adequate protection for the child.
  • Sleeping pills should carry warnings on their labels about potential dangerous side effects.
  • Toys lacking warning labels can pose risks of causing significant injuries.


As with other product liability cases, the plaintiff must prove that the injury was caused by a lack of notice or instructions.

What to Do After Sustaining an Injury From a Defective Product?

If a product defect causes an injury, seek medical assistance immediately. Untreated injuries might worsen over time. Collect evidence to prove liability after emergency medical care.

Take pictures of the product and injury. As proof, keep all medical records and bills. Gather witness contact information and statements. Make sure to contact your attorney right once after the occurrence.

Who’s Liable in Product Liability Cases in California?

A personal injury victim wants to sue all product liability defendants. Suitable parties to consider as defendants may include:

Retailer Who Sold the Product

California retail stores who sell products to consumers may be liable for product liability. While they may not have made the product, they are vital to the distribution chain. 

If the store knew the product was defective or dangerous but sold it, they may be liable for harm. This emphasizes the necessity of retailers assuring product safety.

Product’s Wholesale Distributor

Wholesale distributors connect producers and retailers, and they may be liable for product defects. If a distributor knew a product was defective but sold it regardless, they may be liable for damages. Distributors are vital to the supply chain, thus they must ensure product safety.

Original Manufacturer

Product liability claims often center on the original manufacturer. Product safety is a major obligation of manufacturers. If a design or manufacturing error causes damage, the maker is strictly accountable, even if they were uninformed. Their products must not endanger consumers.

Product Designer

Product designers are crucial to product development. A designer may be accountable for a defective product due to design flaws. 

The question is whether the design was intrinsically unsafe, rendering the product dangerous regardless of manufacturing. Such lawsuits may make designers liable for injury.

Marketers Who Pressured Product Sales

Marketers or advertising that pressured product sales may potentially be liable for product liability. If their marketing misled consumers about the product’s safety or effectiveness and caused injuries, they may be liable. It stresses ethical marketing that puts consumer safety above profit.

What is California’s Statute of Limitations for Product Liability Claims?

California law allows you to file a personal injury claim within two years after discovering a faulty product caused your injuries. 

You have three years from discovering the defective goods caused property damage to file a claim.

What Are the Elements of a Product Liability Claim?

To establish that you have a product liability claim, it’s essential to demonstrate these four key elements:

Your Injury Was Caused by the Product

It’s crucial to establish that the product directly led to your injury and subsequent damages. Without tangible injuries or other harm, your claim may not hold.

The Product Has a Defect

You must demonstrate that the product had a defect. For instance, you can show that it was “unreasonably dangerous” or inherently hazardous due to its design.

The Product Defect Caused Your Injuries

You must also show that the product’s defect caused your injury. You must prove that the defect caused the injury with medical documents or expert testimony.

You Used the Product as Intended

Your claim should be based on using the product as it was intended to be used. If you used the product inappropriately, your case may not be valid.

What Does “Strict Liability” in a Product Liability Case Mean?

Gross negligence, recklessness, or intent to damage are usually required for a defendant to be liable for your injuries. In rare situations, a defendant may be strictly liable for the injury even if they did nothing wrong.

California law holds designers, manufacturers, and sellers severely accountable for injuries caused by a product’s reasonable usage if it is more hazardous than it should be or lacks warnings.

This principle also applies to food service companies that distribute contaminated food products.

What Does Using a Product in a “Reasonably Foreseeable” Way Mean?

California law requires producers to evaluate how consumers use and misuse products. If a consumer’s predictable product usage or misuse caused you harm, the defendant(s) shall be strictly liable. 

This doesn’t mean manufacturers or designers must eliminate all risks. Misuse of many everyday products is dangerous. Producers of risky product must take reasonable precautions to reduce harm. 

This may involve changing the product’s design or production process, inspecting it, or advising about its risks. 

A jury decides if the defendant took reasonable measures and if your use was predictable.

What Are the Possible Compensatory Damages for a Product Liability Claim?

Various parties can claim to compensate damages in court. Product liability damages are the plaintiff’s compensation for personal injuries or losses caused by a defective product. 

Compensatory damages may not totally restore the plaintiff’s circumstances, especially in cases of wrongful death or lasting disability. Compensation is usually separated into economic and non-economic losses. 

Economic losses include property damage, costs, and missed financial growth prospects. These losses comprise:

  • Expenses for medical treatment, including current and future costs, such as hospital bills, doctor fees, pharmacy charges, and therapy expenses
  • Compensation for lost income or wages if injuries hinder your ability to work
  • Costs related to disabilities, encompassing expenses for home care and necessary equipment


Economic losses are usually easy to calculate. You must keep medical bills and repair receipts to prove your financial losses.

Defective products can cause pain, suffering, and “loss of consortium” in human relationships. California’s product liability laws are used by plaintiffs to recover damages from defective items that cause serious harm.

In cases of wrongful death, plaintiffs may additionally experience emotional distress due to the loss of a loved one.

What is Comparative Fault in Product Liability Cases?

While individuals harmed by faulty products have the right to seek compensation for their losses, defendants also possess the right to mount a defense. One such defense involves asserting that the plaintiff used, misused, or modified the product negligently. 

If a plaintiff’s conduct materially contributed to the accident and injuries, California law reduces damages by the jury’s percentage of fault. This legal notion is comparative fault.

Product liability cases can damage a company’s finances and make it liable for consumer injuries. 

Thus, manufacturers and distributors typically assertively argue and reduce their obligation in these cases.

Your Trusted Legal Partner in Product Liability Cases in California

California product defect victims need to determine liability to receive justice and compensation. Responsible parties must be held liable for harm caused by design flaws, manufacturing defects, or inadequate warnings. 

California’s product liability laws are complicated, so you need a dedicated legal team to help you and fight for your rights. Conlogue Law LLP guides California product liability litigants through the complex system. 

Our product liability lawyers know how to find and hold negligent manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Please contact us if a defective product injured you or a loved one. 

We can help you get the correct legal advice and compensation. Our law firm can also assist you with Vehicular Accidents, Maritime Accidents, Airplane Crash Accidents, and Catastrophic Injuries. Contact us today for a free consultation, and let us help you seek justice in your personal injury case.

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