Tort Liability

Consumer Protection

Defenses in Product Liability

Appropriate defenses to a product liability lawsuit include improper use of the product by a consumer, alteration of the product, and improper conduct by the injured party.

There are various defenses that can be raised to a product liability suit. For example, if a purchaser or user of a product uses the product improperly and subsequently gets hurt, the manufacturer might have a defense. The misuse of the product must be unforeseeable, unanticipated, or unintended, and the misuse must have caused the injury. For example, if someone uses a flat-head screwdriver to open a can of paint and subsequently gets hurt, the screwdriver manufacturer might still be responsible because this type of use could have been expected despite the fact that it was not the intended use. In contrast, if someone uses a knife to open a can of paint and subsequently gets hurt, the knife manufacturer will likely not be responsible because using a knife to open a can of paint would likely not be an expected use.

Another possible defense to a product liability suit is that the product was altered. If a safe product leaves the manufacturer and is subsequently altered after it leaves the manufacturer's control, the manufacturer might have a defense if someone is injured as a result of the alteration. For instance, a company might manufacture safety goggles that work as intended. Someone buys a pair and cuts holes in the sides to allow cooler air in. If that person later becomes injured because of chemical spatter that leaked in from the sides of the goggles, then the manufacturer likely has a defense against liability.

A third possible defense to a product liability suit involves the improper conduct of the injured party. Known as comparative fault, this defense permits plaintiff and defendant to compare their liability for an accident and allows awards for damages to be adjusted in proportion to that fault. If the injured party negligently uses a product, for example, this will not defeat a claim based on strict liability even if their negligence resulted in the injury. It can, however, potentially reduce the amount of damages in relation to their comparative fault. For example, if the injured party is found to be 30 percent at fault, their damages could be reduced by 30 percent as a result of their comparative fault.

Another defense to product liability suits is assumption of risk. Assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff knew that the way they were using the product could lead to injury or malfunction and proceeded using the product in that manner despite this knowledge.

Defenses in a Product Liability Case

Defenses such as assumption of risk, comparative fault, and product misuse can help a business fight a product liability claim.