Personal Injury Cases: Strict Product Liability

When people think of personal injury cases, they typically think of car accidents due to a defendant’s negligence. What about those injuries caused from a defective product or made worse because a product does not perform in the way the injured party thought it would? Can the injured party pursue the manufacturer of that product to compensate for his or her injuries? In the personal injury world, these types of cases are called strict product liability. 

Strict Product Liability 

Strict product liability is a legal theory pursued when a plaintiff has been injured by a defective product. A product can be defective in its design, manufacture, or when it has inadequate safety warnings. To prove a strict product liability claim, there are five (5) elements a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence. Said another way, after a plaintiff presents all his or her evidence at trial, the judge or jury must be at least 51% convinced that the plaintiff has satisfied his or her burden of proof. 

First, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was either a manufacturer or distributor of the product, or that the defendant was a merchant who typically sales the type of goods that injured the plaintiff. It is important to note the distinction between a seller and a merchant. A plaintiff cannot pursue their neighbor who sold them a defective product under a strict product liability theory. The merchant must be engaged in the business of supplying the goods involved in the case. For example, a car manufacturer or a store specializing in home appliances.  Second, the plaintiff must prove the product was defective. A product is defective when it becomes unreasonably dangerous because it fails to perform in a manner an ordinary person would reasonably expect it to perform. Third, the plaintiff must prove the defect existed when the product left the defendant’s possession. Fourth, the plaintiff must prove the product’s use was reasonably foreseeable by the defendant. Lastly, the plaintiff must prove the defect was a substantial factor in causing his or her injuries, damages, loss or harm.  

A product is defective in its design when the product is made unreasonably dangerous despite the existence of safer alternative designs. The manufacturer, distributor, or seller must know of the foreseeable risks of harm the defective design poses on its consumers. A product is defective in its manufacture when the product unexpectedly departs from its intended design and becomes unreasonably dangerous. A manufacturing defect can exist even when the manufacturer, distributor, or seller was careful and used reasonable care. A product is defective due to inadequate warnings or instructions when the defendant can reasonably foresee a particular use of the product may be dangerous without adequate warnings to the consumer. If the use of the product was reasonably foreseeable to the defendant, it does not matter that the defendant did not intend for the product to be used in a certain way. 

A plaintiff should know that the defendant can defend a strict product liability claim. Assumption of the risk is the easiest way a defendant can escape a strict product liability claim. If the defendant can prove, by at least 51%, that the plaintiff assumed the risk of the harm he or she suffered, the plaintiff will not be able to recover damages. The defendant will have to prove the plaintiff knew of the danger created by the product, voluntarily assumed the risk despite this knowledge, and the decision to assume the risk was unreasonable. 

Case Example

The case of Shoshone Coca Cola Bottling Co. v. Dolinski, 82 Nev. 439 (1966) is a landmark American torts case that adopted the doctrine of strict liability against a manufacturer and distributor of a bottled beverage. Leo Dolinski drank Squirt soda out of a bottle containing a decomposed mouse. Dolinski suffered physical and mental distress and sued Shoshone Coca Cola Bottling Co. because they were the manufacturer and distributor of the Squirt bottle. The Court held Shoshone Coca Cola Bottling Co. responsible for Dolinski’s damages on the ground that, “one who places upon the market a bottled beverage in a condition dangerous for use must be held strictly liable to the ultimate user for injuries resulting from such use.…” Shoshone Coca Cola Bottling Co. v. Dolinski, 82 Nev. 439, 441 (1966). 

Do I Have a Strict Product Liability Claim? 

If you have been injured by a defective product purchased from a manufacturer, distributor, or merchant in the business of supplying goods of the kind sold, it is important to work with an experienced attorney, like a personal injury lawyer in Las Vegas, NV who can help determine if you are entitled to additional damages under the doctrine of strict product liability. 

Thanks to our friends at Eglet Adams, for their insight on the doctrine of strict product liability.