It’s a dangerous world, and even the items you buy at a store could hurt you. Hundreds of consumer items are recalled for safety reasons every year in the United States.
If you are injured using any consumer item because that item was defectively designed, what are your rights? Can you be compensated for your medical expenses if you are injured using something that you’ve purchased? How can a Boston product liability lawyer help?
AREN’T A LOT OF THE THINGS WE BUY DEFECTIVE?
Many of the consumer products that we purchase are defective or unsatisfactory in some way. If you purchase a new vacuum cleaner and it fails to pick up dirt for no clear reason, you have probably purchased a vacuum cleaner with a design defect.
This kind of thing happens all the time. The typical response is to have the item repaired or replaced. If you’re injured by a product with a design defect, you may need compensation, and seeking that compensation – in all fifty states – is your legal right.
An injury caused by a consumer product can happen to almost anybody. You could be injured by a malfunctioning appliance in your kitchen. A defective auto part could get you injured on your commute to work. Even your cigarette lighter or your cell phone could explode.
If someone is injured using a product and brings a product liability claim, that person had to have used the product as intended and according to instructions. If you heat an apartment with a charcoal grill and suffer smoke inhalation, you have no claim against the maker of the grill.
WHEN DOES SOMEONE HAVE A LEGITIMATE PRODUCT LIABILITY CLAIM?
But if you are injured while using a consumer product as intended, you may pursue a product liability claim for one of these reasons:
1. There was a defect in the design or the production of the product.
2. The manufacturer failed to alert consumers to the risks or to offer adequate instructions for the use of the product.
A plaintiff who is injured by the standard, intended use of a consumer item in Massachusetts will need the advice and representation that an experienced Boston product liability attorney can provide.
WHAT MUST YOU PROVE TO WIN IN A PRODUCT LIABILITY CASE?
A product defect exists when the standard and recommended use of the product leads to a personal injury or injuries.
The injury victim – called the “plaintiff” in a product liability case – and the victim’s attorney must prove that the danger posed by the product could be lessened or eliminated through a reasonable alternative to the original design.
In other words, the victim must show that the same product, with a non-defective design, could accomplish the same purpose. This is typically accomplished by showing precisely what the product’s defect is and why it is in fact a design defect.
Proving that you were injured because of a design defect may require a statement or testimony from an expert witness with a background in product manufacturing and design.
WHAT IS A “WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY” IN MASSACHUSETTS?
Under the product liability laws of Massachusetts, if a manufacturer offers the public a consumer item with a design flaw, and if someone is injured using that item as intended, the manufacturer may be sued for “breach of warranty of merchantability.”
An implied “warranty of merchantability” attaches to every consumer item sold in Massachusetts. It is an implied warranty which guarantees that consumer products are of “merchantable” quality – that is, that they will perform as intended.
The liability focus in such cases is on the product and its design rather than on the conduct of the manufacturer or seller. Thus, a “defendant” (the product manufacturer in a product liability case) may be held liable under a breach of warranty claim even if it acted to make the product safer.
HOW CAN YOU PROVE THAT A PRODUCT’S DESIGN IS DEFECTIVE?
Because a defendant is claiming that a complete product line is defective, the key to a design defect case is the reasonableness or unreasonableness of a product’s design. A plaintiff must show that the product was defective while it was still in the manufacturer’s possession.
Several factors help to determine if a product in fact includes a defect in its design:
1. the seriousness of the risk presented by the disputed design
2. the possibility or probability that a consumer using the item will be injured
3. the feasibility of a less dangerous alternative design
4. the cost to the manufacturer of a less dangerous alternative design
5. the potential negative consequences for the manufacturer and for consumers if a less dangerous alternative design were adopted
Industry design standards can be used to establish a minimum level of safety. Manufacturing and selling items that fall below those design standards may be considered negligence, and if a substandard item’s design injures you, taking legal action to recover compensation is your right.
DO WARNING LABELS MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
A consumer item may be designed defectively even if it includes proper warnings regarding the risk that is posed. A common misunderstanding is that a dangerous item may be exempt from legal examination if plenty of warning stickers are attached to it. That’s incorrect.
The warning provided by the defendant may not effectively prevent injuries. Warning stickers are no substitute for a non-defective product design.
BEFORE YOU SUE, WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW?
If you intend to sue a product manufacturer for a product-related injury or injuries in Massachusetts, you must be aware of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling from the 1980s in the case Correia v. Firestone Tire & Rubber.
In that case, the highest court in our state determined that a victim injured by an item’s defective design may not be compensated if, “after discovering the product’s defect and … its danger, he nevertheless proceeded unreasonably to make use of the product and was injured by it.”
Product-related injuries may be catastrophic, long-term, or even permanent. Traumatic brain injuries and severe spinal cord injuries, over time, can emerge as serious or even disabling medical conditions.
IF YOU’RE INJURED BY A DEFECTIVE ITEM, WHAT STEPS MUST YOU TAKE?
If you are injured while using any consumer product – as it was intended to be used – in the state of Massachusetts:
1. Seek medical treatment immediately.
2. Do not speak to an insurance company prior to meeting with an attorney.
3. Meet with a skilled product liability attorney as soon as possible.
Even if the product that injured you was made by a large corporation with a good reputation and a name known to everyone, you are protected by Massachusetts law, and you have the right to be fully compensated for your accident-related medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, and more.
Nothing is more important than your health and your future. If you are injured by a defective consumer item in this state, the law is on your side, so get the legal help that you’ll need, and get that help at once. That is your right.
Eric J. Parker, the Managing Partner of Parker Scheer LLP, has over 30 years’ experience representing victims in complex personal injury cases. He is active in many legal associations and has won many awards for performance and principles. Eric believes in giving back to the community and supports young scholars and law students by acting as faculty and mentor to them.