What Are Common Defenses to Product Liability Claims?

Nov 1, 2022 | Guides, Legal Topics

Common defenses in product liability cases can be difficult to dismantle without the help of an experienced attorney. Our Houston product liability lawyers are experts in handling claims against powerful corporations that put profits before people. 

The Food and Drug Administration was established to protect Americans from dangerous drugs, medical devices, and other products. But, contrary to popular myth, the FDA doesn’t have the power to demand dangerous product recalls. Instead, this agency can only pressure manufacturers to recall dangerous products voluntarily.

Hiring a product liability attorney and filing legal action forces corporations to offer financial compensation that injured consumers need and deserve. Our legal team is familiar with common defenses to product liability claims that corporations often use to shrug off responsibility.

Proving a Case

Our Houston product liability attorneys often use strict liability principles and public nuisance to obtain compensation and justice for victims. Companies are strictly liable for the injuries their defective products cause. Defective metal-on-metal (MoM) hip implants illustrate both types of product defect claims:

  • Design Defect: When the all-metal parts grind against each other, tiny bits of metal flake off and enter the bloodstream, causing metallosis, or metal poisoning. Metallosis often means device failure and organ failure.
  • Manufacturing Defect: Many hip implants contain cheap metal parts with high cadmium, chromium, and other heavy metals. These particles could also cause metallosis. Brain damage is a risk as well.

Most defective products have several thousand victims. Public nuisance claims are like defective product claims on steroids. These claims take aim at products that could injure hundreds of thousands or millions of people. The landmark 1998 tobacco settlement, which set up a $206 billion victim compensation fund, was a public nuisance case.

Negligence is available as well. Usually, negligence claims maintain that the manufacturer had a duty to warn people about a known risk, and the manufacturer ignored that legal responsibility. Failure to warn of a known risk could also be part of a strict liability claim. Additional damages are available if the defendant deliberately ignored a known risk.

The breach of warranty theory is available as well. According to the Uniform Commercial Code, all merchants must sell fair, average-quality products. Additionally, these goods must be fit for ordinary purposes of such goods. A few other requirements apply as well.

Strict Liability and Public Nuisance Defenses

In the law, “strict liability” means “automatic responsibility.” Strict liability plaintiffs must only prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defective product caused their injury.

The only defense in these product liability claims is the unforeseeable misuse doctrine. Vending machines are a good example. Coke machines usually include written warnings not to shake or jostle the machine. However, people do these things anyway. So, the manufacturer is legally responsible for any resulting injuries. Manufacturers aren’t legally responsible for unforeseeable misuse injuries like this one.

There’s no effective affirmative defense to public nuisance claims. However, these claims have a lot of moving parts. The victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof on everyone. So, if there’s a lack of evidence on any one point, the claim falls apart, like a house of cards.

Negligence Defenses

A whole range of defenses is available if the victim/plaintiff makes a negligence claim. Comparative fault and assumption of the risk are the two biggest ones.

Contributory negligence, which is a common defense in all injury claims, basically shifts blame for an injury from the tortfeasor (negligent party) to the victim (innocent party). In the above video, if Homer filed a negligence action against the vending machine company, the comparative fault defense would almost certainly apply.

In all states, jurors must divide fault between the two sides on a percentage basis. Texas is a modified comparative fault state with a 51 percent threshold. So, victims are entitled to compensation if they are no more than 49 percent responsible for an injury.

Assumption of the risk often involves warning signs like “Do Not Jostle the Vending Machine.” Basically, if the victim saw the sign, could read the sign and could understand what the sign meant, the tortfeasor usually isn’t responsible for damages.

Defective products often cause serious injuries. For a confidential consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Houston, contact Williams Hart & Boundas, LLP. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only. The provision of this material does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this newsletter are not a substitute for legal counsel. Do not take action in reliance on the contents of this material without seeking the advice of counsel.

The information contained in this blog may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. Accordingly, information in this blog is not promised or guaranteed to be correct or complete, and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.


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