Defective products are dangerous. They can cause severe life-altering injuries or even death. If you've been injured by a defective product, or you've lost a loved one because of a dangerous product, you may be legally entitled to recover money under product liability law.
What Types of Products Can Be Defective?
Many products can be defective or dangerous in a way that supports a product liability claim. Examples of products that have led to claims include:
- Medical and surgical devices and equipment
- Medications and drugs
- Toys and other articles for made for children
- Cars and car parts
- Recreational and sports gear
- Consumer goods
Who is Liable? Can I Sue a Manufacturer or Sellers?
In Washington State, most defective product claims are governed by a state law called the Washington Product Liability Act (WPLA). The law sets out the rules for determining liability to consumers for manufacture and sale of defective or dangerous products.
Under the WPLA, a manufacturer is liable for injuries caused by a product if:
- The product was “not reasonably safe as designed,” or
- The product was “not reasonably safe because adequate warnings or instructions were not provided."
The legal standard is one based on consumer expectations about safety. The law specifically provides that the determination of whether a product is “not reasonably safe,” is based on whether the product was unsafe to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer.
The law specifies several other different ways that a manufacturer can be held liable for product that is “not reasonably safe”:
- The product design is defective;
- The product was manufactured or constructed defectively;
- Risk / liability analysis: A technical analysis that weighs the likelihood that a product would cause injury or damage similar to that sustained by the claimant against the burden on the manufacturer to design the product differently;
- The manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings or instructions either with purchase of the product or after purchase, if the manufacturer learned or should have learned of a danger associated with the product after it was manufactured and sold; or
- The product did not conform to an express or implied warranty given by the manufacturer.
The WPLA limits the liability of sellers who are not also manufacturers, including wholesalers and retail sellers. They are only legally responsible under certain circumstances, which are:
- The seller’s own negligence caused the product to be unsafe;
- The seller breached an express warranty they made about the product; or
- The seller intentionally misrepresented facts or concealed information about the product.
Even if none of these three conditions is true, a seller can still be responsible if:
- There is no manufacturer who can be held liable in Washington State or the claimant’s state of residence;
- The court finds it highly improbable that the claimant would be able to enforce a judgment against the manufacturer;
- The product seller is a controlled subsidiary of the manufacturer, or the manufacturer is a controlled subsidiary of the seller;
- The seller provided the specifications or plans for manufacture, and the specifications or plans were the proximate cause of the defect in the product; or
- The product was marketed as a trade or name brand of the seller.
Time Limit for Making a Claim - The Statute of Limitations
There is a deadline which controls the amount of time allowed for filing a product liability claim against a product seller. It is called the Statute of Limitations. The rules are:
- If the product seller can prove that the harm caused to the claimant occurred after the “useful safe life” of the product has expired, the product seller will not be liable;
- “Useful safe life” begins at the time of delivery and lasts for as long as the product normally would be likely to perform or be stored safely;
- The seller can still be held liable beyond the product’s useful safe life if the seller warranted that the product could be used for longer or intentionally misrepresented facts or concealed information that caused the harm;
- After 12 years, there is a presumption that the useful safe life of a product has expired, which can be overcome by evidence to the contrary; and
- In any case, a claim must be brought within three years of the time that the claimant discovered or should have discovered the injury and the cause of the injury.
Do I Have a Good Defective Product Claim? Will My Case Settle?
Product liability claims are complicated and difficult to prove. Few of them ever settle until after you file a lawsuit. There are a number of reasons for that:
- Washington State product liability claims are subject to a complex set of laws, rules, and industry custom.
- Proving a case often involves conducting extensive investigation and gathering a lot of evidence. This can be expensive.
- The rule of comparative negligence may apply in a product liability case. If the claimant’s own conduct contributed to the injuries, compensation may be reduced according to the extent of the claimant’s own negligence.
- The extent of liability is heavily dependent on the specific facts of each case.
- The manufacturers of products are often large well-funded corporations with an army of attorneys and experts.
If you have been seriously injured — or you have lost a loved one — and you think a dangerous or defective product may be the cause of the injuries, your best course of action is to talk with a knowledgable attorney who is experienced with product liability law.
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