According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than twenty thousand deaths and thirty million injuries related to consumer products occur each year. Many of these injuries involve seemingly harmless objects like hair dryers, toasters, baby chairs, toys, coffee makers, air conditioners, and clothing items. Products liability law applies to injuries caused by virtually all products, not just items on the store shelves. Accidents giving rise to claims may involve pharmaceuticals, appliances, automobiles, medical devices, tobacco, office supplies, and many other goods.
Scope of Products Liability Law
Products liability claims are a type of tort claims, or claims involving civil wrongs. This area of law involves the liability imposed upon a product’s sellers and manufacturers for injuries relating to a product. Design, manufacturing, and marketing defects and the injuries they cause are the subjects of products liability suits. Design defects are created when a good is engineered improperly. Manufacturing defects arise during the fabrication, assembly, or packaging of a product. Marketing defects occur when a consumer has been improperly warned of product dangers.
Products liability law affords buyers, users, and even bystanders the opportunity to be compensated for damages suffered due to defective products. Often times, a manufacturer is held strictly liable. Products liability cases range in magnitude and may involve suits brought by individual consumers or complex class actions brought on behalf of thousands of individuals. The good’s producer is not necessarily the only party legally responsible for injuries sustained. Liability may rest with the designer of a product, the manufacturer of a product’s component parts, the firm that assembles or packages a product, the wholesaler, a retailer, or some or all of these parties.
Products Liability Law in Georgia
There are no federal products liability statutes. The Model Uniform Products Liability Act (“MUPLA”) and the Uniform Commercial Code offer guidance regarding products liability that many state governments have voluntarily adopted within more comprehensive products liability statutes. Circumstances surrounding the underlying injury, the nature of the defect, and a party’s role in making the product available are important factors in determining the extent of a party’s liability. Georgia has adopted relevant provisions of Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code to govern breach of warranty claims. Therefore, theories of strict liability in tort, common law negligence, and contractual breach of warranty may be available to the plaintiff.
Under Georgia law, the manufacturer of products sold as new are liable to anyone who uses, consumes, or is reasonably affected by the product and sustains injury proximately caused because the product was not merchantable or suitable for its intended purpose at the time the product was sold by the manufacturer. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11(b)(1). Georgia law distinguishes between product sellers and manufacturers. Product sellers are those who, for commercial purposes, lease or sell and distribute, install, prepare, blend, package, label, market, or assemble pursuant to a manufacturer's plan. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11.1(a). A product seller may also be one who repairs or maintains a product in the stream of commerce. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11.1(a). In products liability actions based in whole or in part on the doctrine of strict liability, a product seller is not considered to be a manufacturer and is not liable as a manufacturer under Georgia law. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11.1(b). Instead, a product seller has a duty to exercise ordinary care.
Design defects are defects that are inherent in the product. In other words, these defects exist before the product is even manufactured. While a product with a design defect might serve its intended purpose well, the design flaw may make it unreasonably dangerous to use. Under Georgia law, manufacturers are held strictly liable for design defects in their products that proximately result in injury to the user thereof, or to nonusers who are reasonably affected by the product. Jones v. Nordictrack, Inc., 550 S.E.2d 101, 102 (2001). Georgia courts apply a risk-utility analysis when determining liability for negligent design. Risk-utility analysis seeks to evaluate the risks presented by a product in comparison to the utility or benefit derived from the product. Ogletree v. Navistar Intern. Transp. Corp., 522 S.E.2d 467, 469 (Ga. 1999) (“the mandate that a product’s risk  be weighed against its utility incorporates the concept of ‘reasonableness,’ so as to apply negligence principles in the determination of whether the manufacturer defectively designed its product.”). In determining whether a product’s design is defective, the factfinder may consider evidence regarding numerous factors, including the availability of safer, more feasible alternative designs. Banks v. ICI Americas, Inc., 450 S.E.2d 671, 674-75 (Ga. 1994).
Manufacturing defects arise during the construction, assembling, or processing of a product. Where design defects cause all goods produced to be inherently defective, manufacturing defects will generally cause a fraction of total production to be flawed. The package is considered to be part of the integrated whole of the product for the purposes of determining whether a manufacturing defect exists. Hunt v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., Inc., 248 S.E.2d 15, 16 (1978). Evidence of a product recall is admissible for the purposes of determining whether the defect existed at the time the product left the manufacturer. Rose v. Figgie Int’l, Inc., 495 S.E.2d 77, 81-82 (Ga. Ct. App. 1997)
Georgia law excludes product sellers from strict liability claims that are brought against manufacturers. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11.1.
A product may be defective even if it is neither defectively manufactured nor designed. The courts have long held that the failure to warn of a product's potential hazard is a defect, invoking all of the trappings of products liability. A marketing defect may occur where a manufacturer fails to adequately communicate the warning in a way that calls the reader’s attention or where the manufacturer fails to provide an adequate warning of the product’s potential risks. Wilson Foods Corp. v. Turner, 460 S.E.2d 532, 534 (Ga. Ct. App. 1995). Where a manufacturer has reason to foresee that peril will result from a particular use, the manufacturer maintains a duty to provide an adequate warning of that danger. Products sold without such a warning are defective. Beam v. Omark Industries, Inc., 237 S.E.2d 607, 610 (Ga. Ct. App. 1977). The manufacturer is also responsible for warning of a hazard capable of creating injury due to continued exposure. Miles v. Ashland Chemical Co., 410 S.E.2d 290, 291(1991) (holding that the cause of action accrues when the failure to warn is discovered by the injured plaintiff).
Breach of Warranty
A claim for breach of warranty may arise when a manufacturer does not comply with an express or implicit contract. Where a claimant alleges that a manufacturer breached a written warranty, the claim is essentially a breach of contract claim. Such a claim may arise where a purchased good does not conform to the corresponding warranty representations and an injury arose as a result. In addition to any written agreement that may exist, the law implies warranties including a warranty of merchantability (guaranteeing that the goods are in proper condition for use and free of defects), and a warranty of fitness (guaranteeing that the goods are capable of performing their intended purpose). These warranties are called implied warranties because the law assumes that they apply even if they are not expressly stated. If a product does not meet these standards, the purchaser may have the right to return it and get back the purchase price, or sometimes to receive monetary damages.
A company’s most effective strategy for avoiding products liability litigation is to manufacture the safest product possible within parameters of economic feasibility. In products liability cases, the plaintiff’s attorney must thoroughly scrutinize the defendant’s attention to design, production, testing, inspection, and evaluation of its product as well as the defendant’s attentiveness to consumer complaints. As a result, this type of litigation often involves expert testimony to evaluate a product’s development, prototype testing, engineering, hazard analysis, quality control, and the composition of warnings and instructions. Field specialists and economics experts are sometimes consulted for the purposes of assessing the viability of alternative designs.
Products liability law is an intricate area of legal practice characterized by its nuances and exceptions. This body of law is continually developing and products liability claims demand experienced and knowledgeable legal representation. In these cases, it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, document the chain of custody of the product in question, and to enable engineers or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate the product and your injuries. If a product of any kind has led to the injuries to you or a loved one, call Law Office of Donald P. Edwards
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