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Product Liability: Differences, Damages, and Statutes

In general, when you purchase a product you are doing so to improve your quality of life. This includes products that are needed for work related duties and leisurely pursuits. Even something as simple as a toaster can improve the quality of someone's life. However, in order to deliver such a promise, the product must work. Of course, defects and duds are common. That is why products must be exchanged from time to time. Then, there are those products that embody defects that are dangerous. If the aforementioned toaster causes a fire, the results can be catastrophic. That is why there are product liability laws in effect to provide remedy when a product does not work effectively.

Product liability cases often center on who is responsible for the adverse results derived from a defective product. Responsibility is further (legally) divided into negligence and strict liability. They are not the same entity and a clear understanding of the differences is needed to move forward with a product liability case. Therefore, a basic definition of these two terms is provided.

Negligence is essentially fault. A common form of negligence is found when an automobile accident occurs because the driver failed to drive at a safe speed.  In this case, we are looking at the nature of a person's actions and whether they acted correctly under the circumstance.  Negligence focuses on the duty to act in a safe manner. By comparison, product liability cases do not focus on conduct, but the condition of a product.  In these cases one needs to prove that a product was defective, and would then bring suit against the manufacturer.

Strict liability is refers to responsibility that exists due to a product being dangerous for its intended purpose.  It is not focused on the fault of how a person behaved or what they did or what they failed to do.  Rather, it is focused on the safety of the product sold.  Sellers of products have an extra duty to make sure that the products are safe.  It is sort of like a warranty. This is because they are in the best position to make sure that their products are safe and they would know the most about any safety issues with their products. Thus, if you are harmed by an unsafe product, you need only show that the product was not fit for its intended purpose.  The individual or entity sued under strict liability is liable since they were responsible for safety of their product and injuries it causes if it was not safe.  Returning to the previous car accident scenario, if a passenger of a limo service is injured in an accident because the brakes possessed a manufacturer defect, the manufacturer could be sued under a strict liability statute. This is because the manufacturer had provided a defective car to the limo company. The mere fact that the car was defective and the defect caused an injury is all that is required to bring suit against the manufacturer for the brake defect.

Keep in mind, as with any lawsuit, statutes of limitations are in effect in any product liability case. Specifically, the statute of limitations for product liability cases in the state of Pennsylvania is two years. However, it is important to note that the Discovery Rule is in effect so the two year limitation can be amended to the realization date of an injury.