Maybe it was a swing set you bought for your children. Perhaps it was a toaster oven that you purchased for your wife on Valentine’s Day (so thoughtful, Mr. Romance!). Sometimes products just do not operate the way they were intended to – and that swing set has a seat that snaps, or the toaster oven catches on fire.
This is an area of law called “defective products,” also known by its alias, “products liability.”
This section of law can get confusing because it spiders off into three separate categories, and much of its depends on the manufacturer’s state of mind when the product was created or designed. It also examines the theory of supply chain management, which can stretch very far back through multiple companies, and across various states and countries – depending on how many different companies provided parts for the actual end product.
Let’s take a look at Florida in particular.
In Florida, courts use one of two theories to analyze what happened in a defective product case: a negligence theory, or a product liability theory. The latter can be referred to as “strict products liability,” which means that the person’s intent does not matter, as long as the plaintiff can prove that the product was, in fact, defective. These theories might overlap or bleed together in certain cases, but for the most part they are fairly demarcated. Florida usually follows the strict liability theory.
We discussed negligence in this article. Products liability, on the other hand, tends to fall into one of three categories, each of which takes the manufacturer’s conduct (or lack thereof) into account.
The statute of limitations for a product liability or defective product claim is four years from the date of injury. If the claim includes a wrongful death, that statute is shortened to two years.
There are exceptions to this, as always. You might have additional time to file your lawsuit if the injury had a delayed onset, or if the product manufacturer offered a longer warranty. Florida’s Statute of Repose is 12 years and the state follows the Discovery Rule. Make sure to keep track of the statute of limitations so that it does not sneak up on you.
Florida state law unfortunately limits recovery of punitive damages (or damages intended to punish) to $500,000, or three times the amount of compensatory damages that the victim is awarded. The plaintiff has to show “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant “had actual knowledge of the wrongness of [his] conduct.”
However, certain cases do allow the court to find that if the defendant acted in an especially wanton or reckless manner, or if he was financially motivated and risked injury to the public, punitive damages may reach up to $2 million, or four times the compensatory damages awarded to the victim.
Because product liability and defective product claims can become very expensive for manufacturers, they will do everything in their power to stop them in their tracks before they gain any steam.
One main defense they will use is that the plaintiff has not properly identified the correct manufacturer that created the product that injured him. The plaintiff has to connect the product to the right company in order to collect damages. This is where supply chain management comes into play.
Another defense is that the plaintiff somehow altered the product after acquiring it, which led to the injury. This would negate the manufacturer’s responsibilities because the plaintiff broke the supply chain.
Speaking to a personal injury attorney who is well versed in defective product claims would be a good start.
Make sure to look for an attorney who makes you feel comfortable, who puts your needs first and who devotes the necessary time to your case. Read lots of reviews and ask people who have used product liability attorneys before.
If you need someone to help you through this difficult process, read some of the resources below and speak with some of the Florida attorneys listed in Enjuris who are well versed in this area. They will be able to assist you.