If you were injured from a defective product, you should know what to do, who to call, and how to preserve evidence in case of a lawsuit.
You might hear people say that "they don't make things the way they used to," (or maybe you've even said it yourself). Whether or not that's true, the fact is that most of us use commercially made products every day, and sometimes things go wrong in a way that causes injury.
But there's a big difference between a product that breaks because of normal use (or wear and tear) and a product that's defective. And, what if you have a poorly made product that breaks quickly but doesn't cause an injury? We've all purchased something that breaks sooner than we thought it should have.
Types of damages for defective products
A personal injury lawsuit (which includes defective product lawsuits) is based on the premise that negligence caused an injury, and the recovery from that injury cost the plaintiff (the injured person) money. You can file a lawsuit to claim expenses for damages that include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium, which would include a loss of companionship, services (like child-rearing or other household activities), or affection for a spouse or child
- Wrongful death, which is a claim a surviving family member can make if the injury resulted in the death of a loved one because of someone's negligence
- Medical treatment, like hospital or doctor visits, prescription medications, assistive devices, surgical or diagnostic procedures or testing, etc.
- Lost wages if your injury required you to take time off from work
In addition, punitive damages are sometimes awarded by the court in a case where the defendant's negligence was malicious or especially egregious in a way that the court thinks warrants punishment. It's often used as a deterrent to the defendant and similar companies so that the behavior isn't repeated.
Here are 2 examples of defective products where one might lead to a claim (green) and one wouldn't (red):
Harry bought a hose to water his garden. After he'd only owned it for a few months, the rubber snapped and resulted in a leak. Harry noticed the leak after just a few hours, and he removed the hose. His garden was well-watered, and all of his plants survived and there was no harm done.
The hose shouldn't have broken so quickly, but there's no compensable damage because no one was injured and there was no harm to his garden. Harry wouldn't have a claim for a defective product because he didn't suffer an injury or loss.
Linda bought a ladder to use for cleaning her windows. Linda, an average-sized person, climbed the ladder and fell when one of the rungs broke beneath her weight. It turned out that there was a fracture in the steel rung that weakened the metal and Linda was seriously injured as a result.
In this situation, Linda would have a claim against the manufacturer of the ladder for negligence because they didn't perform an adequate quality check to be sure that the steel rung was secure before selling the product.
North Carolina negligence claims
Some states follow what's called a "strict liability" standard, which would mean that a manufacturer is automatically liable for an injury caused by a defective product, even if the company wasn't negligent.
Negligence is the failure to take reasonable care in a situation where a person owed a duty to another, breached that duty, and that breach results in harm.
Who can be held liable for a defective product?
Any company or person who handles an item before it reaches the consumer bears a duty of care. The defendant in a product liability claim could be any party in the product's chain of distribution. Every product goes through a series of "hands" before it arrives at your home.
The manufacturer is only the first. These are some of the parties that could be defendants in a product liability claim:
- Manufacturers. The manufacturer seems like the obvious defendant in a product liability claim, but it's not always so straightforward. A lot of products, especially appliances, contain components that are made by a variety of suppliers. If the defect is the result of a malfunction of one particular part of the item, the defendant could be the manufacturer of the part and not of the entire product. Normally, the manufacturer of the entire product (whoever's name is on the box, usually) is also a defendant, but they could be joined by a secondary defendant.
- Wholesalers or distributors. Often, a manufacturer will send a product to a wholesaler or distributor for packaging, shipping, and other logistics. These logistics companies can also be liable for mistakes that happen when they're in control of a product.
- Retailers. You can make a claim against any party in the chain of distribution, which could include the store where you bought the item.
North Carolina has an "innocent seller" defense. If a retailer sold an item in a sealed box or container, or if the retailer had no opportunity to inspect the product, they wouldn't be held liable for a defect unless:
- The seller damaged the product.
- The manufacturer can't be sued in North Carolina court.
- The manufacturer is insolvent (has no money to pay a judgment).
There's also a concept called "joint and several liability," which means each defendant is liable both together and separately for the damage award. In other words, if there are 3 defendants, they would decide together who pays how much of the total damages. If one defendant doesn't have the money to pay the entire damage award, even if they had the highest level of liability, then the other 2 would be responsible for paying the full amount to the plaintiff.
Product liability statute of limitations in North Carolina
In North Carolina, there are a couple of timelines you need to keep in mind for a product liability claim. The first is the statute of limitations, which says you have 3 years from the date that you were injured to file a lawsuit.
There's also a "statute of repose," which allows 12 years from the date of purchase in order to file a lawsuit. In other words, if an item was purchased more than 12 years ago (if you become injured after owning it 13 years, for example), you are no longer able to file a claim.
Types of North Carolina product liability claims
There are 3 types of defects that can lead to a product liability claim:
- Design defect. This happens if a product is inherently dangerous because the design wasn't safe. Even if it's manufactured exactly according to the design specifications, it remains a dangerous product when used correctly. The only way to correct the defect is to change the design and create the product differently.
- Manufacturing defect. If a product is damaged, not assembled properly, or otherwise comes through the manufacturing process incorrectly, it could result in a manufacturing defect.
- Inadequate warnings. Even if the product is designed and manufactured exactly as expected, sometimes injuries happen because the labels or packaging didn't provide sufficient warning to the consumer about possible dangers or incorrect use.
Defenses to a product liability claim
North Carolina follows the contributory negligence standard of law. For most personal injury lawsuits, this means if the plaintiff had any responsibility for their own injury, they cannot recover damages.
In a product liability lawsuit, this benefits the defendant if they can demonstrate that:
- The plaintiff altered or modified the product from its original form
- The product was used contrary to included warnings or instructions
- The plaintiff knew there was a defect but used it anyway
- The plaintiff didn't exercise reasonable care while using the product
In other words, these are some common defenses to a product liability lawsuit:
- Sealed container. This is the same as the "innocent seller" defense. If the seller received and sold the product in a sealed container and had no reason to believe the product was defective, the seller cannot be held liable.
- Product alteration. A third party altered the product in a way that wasn't covered by the manufacturer's instructions.
- Contributory negligence. The plaintiff failed to use reasonable care.
- Lack of safer alternatives. If the plaintiff's claim is for defective design, the plaintiff must prove that there's a safer alternative.
- No opportunity to warn. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew there was a risk and was unreasonable when they failed to warn of the danger.
- Open and obvious risk. The risk was apparent, but the plaintiff made a choice to use the product in a specific way, regardless.
An injured plaintiff doesn't have to be the person who purchased the product. You may make a claim if you were injured by an item purchased by your family member, if you were a guest of the person who owned the item, or if you're an employee of the purchaser.
What to do after you've been injured by a defective product
If you were injured because of a defective product, it's important to preserve the evidence. If it's a visible injury, you should take as many photos as you can of the injury and the item that caused it. It will be important for the court to see the condition of the item at the time you were injured.
It's also important that if you visit a doctor because of your injury, you mention how you were hurt. It's good for your medical record to reflect as much detail about how the accident happened as possible.
Next, contact a lawyer. Especially if the product is on the newer side, the lawyer might want to move fast to trace the chain of custody of the item from the manufacturer to you. The more evidence they can find about how and when the product became damaged or defective, the better for your claim.
Ready to talk to a North Carolina product liability lawyer about your case? Find an experienced attorney in your area by browsing the free Enjuris law firm directory.
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A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more