How to file claims for defective products and finding the right lawyer to help
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.
Products liability under Florida law
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.
- Design defects: This is intended on the part of the manufacturer, because even if it was made flawlessly, it can still endanger the user. This is determined in Florida by the “consumer expectation test,” which states that a product is considered unreasonably dangerous if it does not perform as safely as reasonably expected when a consumer uses it in its intended manner.Some design defect cases include the following:
- 1. A small toy that can be easily swallowed by a child;
- 2. A car that can accelerate suddenly on its own; or
- 3. A gun safety that still allows the gun to be fired.
- Failure to warn: These are also called “marketing defects” and focus on actions in supply chain management. The product was properly designed and created, but was not accompanied by the correct instructions or warnings. The lack of warnings made the product unreasonably dangerous to its intended users.Failure to warn issues might include the following:
- 1. A medication that causes serious side effects;
- 2. A child’s chair meant to clamp on to a table that falls if not properly installed; or
- 3. A log-splitting device that causes serious injury if one’s hand is in the wrong place.
- Manufacturing defect: Even if the product were designed safely, the end result that left the facility was not in harmony with that concept. If that end result then causes an injury to its intended user, the manufacturer can be held liable.Manufacturing issues might include the following:
- 1. Tread separation on tires;
- 2. A faulty handle on a car door; or
- 3. A safety lock on a car seat.
Florida products claims process
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.
Product liability damage caps in Florida
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.
Common defenses by suppliers and manufacturers of defective products
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.
What to look for in a Florida defective products/product liability attorney
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.
Personal Injury Attorney Interview Sheet
Worksheet with questions to ask a personal injury attorney to help determine if he or she will be a good fit for your case
Download in PDF format
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.
Resources to help you hire the best Florida defective products/product liability lawyer
- How to find a good Florida personal injury lawyer
- What does a Florida personal injury lawyer actually do for you?
- Choosing a personal injury attorney – interview questions
- Preparing to meet with a personal injury attorney
- How to talk to a lawyer
- How damages are calculated
- Negotiating lawyers’ fees - how do accident lawyers charge? Are there any hidden costs?
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.