Did you suffer injuries or property damage due to a defective product? You’re entitled to financial compensation from the product’s manufacturer, distributor, or seller. Steinger, Greene & Feiner is the Jacksonville product liability lawyer you can trust to hold the responsible party accountable and secure the compensation you deserve.
Understanding Product Liability
Product liability is a law stating that manufacturers, distributors, and sellers are liable for any injuries that a defective or dangerous product inflicts upon a buyer. Product liability laws protect buyers from purchasing and using products that are either unfairly hazardous or manufactured to hide the potential risks from them. Here’s a breakdown of what each party is responsible for.
- Manufacturers are responsible for designing safe products and conducting safety tests before sending those products to distribution.
- Distributors are responsible for clearly labeling products that contain dangerous substances—whether it be prescription medication or an explosive—as potentially harmful. They must also include instructions for the proper use of the product.
- Sellers are responsible for inspecting the products they sell for any defects before putting them on shelves.
The statute of limitations in Florida for product liability claims is four years for personal injury and property damage and two years for cases involving wrongful death. This means that buyers who were harmed by a product can file a lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor, or seller up to four years from the date of the injury or property damage or up to two years from the date of the wrongful death.
Product Liability Laws
Product liability claims can be based on the presence of negligence, strict liability, or breach of contract—or a combination of these.
Manufacturers, distributors, and sellers have a duty of care to buyers. This means that they must take reasonable precautions to ensure their products are safe for public and individual use.
The precautions taken should be those that a reasonable person would take in a given circumstance. If a manufacturer, distributor, or seller fails to uphold their duty of care, they may be deemed to have acted negligently and can be held financially liable for any harm caused.
Establishing negligence requires four criteria to be met:
- Duty: The manufacturer, distributor, or seller owed the buyer a duty of care, which includes a duty to warn buyers of potential product hazards or defects
- Breach: The manufacturer, distributor, or seller breached their duty of care to the buyer
- Causation: The manufacturer’s, distributor’s, or seller’s breach of duty caused the buyer’s injuries
- Damages: The buyer suffered a form of identifiable harm—whether physical, mental, or emotional—as a result of their injuries
Strict liability takes place when the manufacturer, distributor, or seller fails to warn buyers of the potential dangers of a product that they did know or should have known about and that buyers would not recognize on their own. Strict liability is determined based on whether the product that injured the buyer was either defective or unreasonably harmful. The manufacturer, distributor, or seller does not have to be negligent for strict liability to apply.
Breach of Contract
A breach of contract—also known as a breach of warranty—takes place when a product fails to satisfy the standards outlined in its warranty. For example, if a home goods manufacturer claims that a cooking pan is 100% non-stick but food still sticks to it, the manufacturer has breached its contract with the buyer. If the product causes the buyer harm or financial loss, they can seek compensation from the manufacturer.
Many products have limited warranties, which limit the manufacturer’s or seller’s responsibility to remedy the problem. If a buyer files a product liability lawsuit after the limited warranty expiration date (i.e. two years), a breach of contract may not apply. Other products have extended warranties, which expand the manufacturer’s or seller’s ability to remedy the problem.
Common Types of Product Liability Cases
Product liability cases typically fall into three main categories, which are outlined below:
- Defective Design: The product’s design is inherently hazardous, making the manufacturer liable for any injuries or damages caused.
- Defective Manufacturing: The product’s formation or assembly makes it hazardous, like the use of low-grade materials, making the distributor liable for any harm or property damage that takes place.
- Defective Marketing or Failure to Warn: The product is not provided with information outlining the safe use of the product, making either the manufacturer or seller liable for personal injury or property damage that occurs.
Examples of Product Liability Cases
Mattel Toy Recall
U.S. toy manufacturer Mattel recalled several toys in China due to the presence of lead paint in them. Lead can cause severe brain damage in young children when ingested. In this case, Mattel failed to inspect and test the products being manufactured, distributed, and sold in China. They also failed to inform buyers of the dangers of lead paint. As a result, Mattel breached its duty of care to buyers, which caused harm to them.
The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit
In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of scalding hot coffee in her lap, which caused third-degree burns and permanent disfigurement. She later sued McDonald’s for failing to warn her of the extreme temperature of the coffee that caused her injuries.
General Motors Faulty Ignition Switch
General Motors manufactured vehicles from 2000 to 2004 that contained faulty ignition switches, which caused engines to stop in the middle of driving and prevented airbags from inflating. Not only were the ignition switches faulty, but General Motors also hid the design change for 13 years. During this time, 300 consumers were injured, and 124 died. General Motors was held liable for defective design and a failure to warn buyers of the dangers of the ignition switch.
Proving Liability in Product Liability Cases
Burden of Proof
Like in any other personal injury case, the burden of proof in a product liability lawsuit lies with the plaintiff. The plaintiff must, at the very least, prove that the defendant acted negligently and that their negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. When strict liability applies, the plaintiff is not required to prove negligence.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Florida is a pure comparative negligence state. This legal principle enables the plaintiff in a product liability lawsuit to seek compensatory damages from the defendant, which is either the manufacturer, the distributor, or the seller—or multiple parties. If the plaintiff is partially at fault for the injury or property damage, their compensation will be reduced by the percentage of fault they contributed.
For example, if the total compensation awarded in the lawsuit is $100,000, and the plaintiff is found to be 10% at fault, their award will be reduced to $90,000. Under pure comparative negligence law, the plaintiff can still seek damages even if they are up to 99% liable for the injury or damage.
A skilled Jacksonville product liability lawyer will help you secure financial compensation to cover the cost of economic and non-economic damages.
- Economic damages are objective losses that are assigned specific dollar amounts. Common examples include lost income, loss of future earnings, medical bills, property damage, and rehabilitation.
- Non-economic damages are subjective losses that cannot be attributed a particular dollar amount. Common examples include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, anxiety and depression, PTSD, and scarring and disfigurement.
Choosing the Right Product Liability Attorney for Your Case
Choosing the right lawyer to represent your product liability claim makes all the difference. Here are four factors you should consider when hiring an attorney.
- Experience: Your attorney should have extensive experience handling product liability cases. They will know the laws surrounding product liability in Florida along with common obstructions to avoid.
- Specialization: Hiring an attorney who specializes in product liability cases will improve your chances of having an effective lawsuit.
- Track Record: You don’t just need an attorney who has experience handling product liability cases. You need an attorney who has a track record of winning product liability cases. A track record of success will bode well for your case.
- Testimonials: Personal recommendations go a long way—as do warnings. Consider whether previous clients have had mostly positive or negative experiences working with the attorney you’re considering hiring. While all reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, it is telling when ratings sway strongly in one direction.
Contact a Jacksonville Product Liability Lawyer Today
Product liability lawsuits are complex. Our lawyers can help you navigate these complexities and achieve the results you want. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve. Let Steinger, Greene & Feiner handle your case to ensure maximum financial compensation is attained. Contact our Jacksonville product liability lawyers today to get started with a free case evaluation.