October 29, 2016

By: Peter M. Hileman, Esq.

Have you or a family member been injured by a defective product? If so, you may be entitled to recover money to compensate you for your injuries. This article will explain the key elements of a products liability case.

Pennsylvania has a strong pro-consumer products liability law. This law makes the manufacturer the “guarantor” of its product’s safety, andstrictly liable for injuries caused by its use, if the product lacks any element necessary to make it safe for its intended purpose. Thus, if you were injured by an unsafe product while using it as it was intended to be used, you likely have a good case.

Unlike typical negligence cases, most Pennsylvania defective product cases are based on strict liability, and thus the defendant need not have been negligent or at fault. (Some products cases, however, are based in whole or part on negligence or breach of warranty.)

Even if the defective product had never injured anyone else, or was very similar to other products deemed to be “safe,” or if the product that injured you can be shown to be unsafe, you may have a claim.

Products liability law has a unique concept known as “chain of liability.” As a result, if the product is proven defective, any seller of that product in the chain of distribution may be liable for your injuries, including the retailer that sold it to you, any distributor or reseller, and the original manufacturer. Parties that assembled, provided components for, repaired or tested the product may be liable as well.

Even if you weren’t the purchaser of the defective product or if you were injured while using (or even being in the vicinity of) the defective product, you may have a claim.

The plaintiff must prove that the product was defective (i.e., lacking some element needed to make it safe). The following are examples of defects that may give rise to a valid defective product claim:

  • Design defects. A product’s poor design may cause it to be dangerous.
  • Manufacture defects. A product may be dangerous if it was manufactured improperly, even if its design was safe. But to have a valid claim, the plaintiff must prove that it was in a dangerous condition when it left the manufacturer and was unaltered at the time it caused the injury.
  • Labeling defects. A product may have inadequate labeling, instructions or warnings, causing it to be dangerous to a user who was not aware of the danger. An effective warning must be thorough, conspicuous and adequately advise the consumer of the risk.

Even though many product liability cases are based on a strict liability, they are very difficult to win. There are at least three reasons for this.

First, products liability cases require thorough investigation and an expert’s evaluation of the safety of the product. This makes them very expensive to try.

Second, in many cases, the actual defective product must have been retained. This is especially true if the product’s unsafe condition was caused by a manufacturing defect (rather than a design or labeling defect). Failure to save the defective product is known as spoliation.

Third, defective products cases are often vigorously defended. Offers of settlement are often shockingly low in light of the victims’ injuries. If the plaintiff wins at trial, there are often appeals. The best strategy is to prepare hard for trial, but also negotiate hard to reach a fair settlement.

Our firm recently secured a $235,000 settlement with the manufacturer of a hunter’s “tree step,” which broke and caused our client to fall and sustain serious injuries while hunting in the Poconos. When the victim contacted us, the tree step was still lodged in the tree. We arranged to have the tree cut down and the tree step tested by an expert metallurgist. The expert confirmed that the product was not strong enough to hold an average man’s weight. Settlement was only reached after we filed suit in federal court in Scranton and discovery revealed that 13 other hunters across the country had fallen and been injured using the same model tree step.

We believe that manufacturers need to be held accountable to consumers for the products they sell, and when their products are dangerous and hurt people, they should be required to pay compensation to their innocent victims.

Drake, Hileman & Davis has been winning defective products cases for over 30 years. Contact us today for a free case evaluation and consultation.