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Proving Fault for Defective Product Injuries

If you’ve been injured by a dangerous consumer product, it’s usually not hard to recover compensation for your injuries.

Defective or dangerous products are the cause of many thousands of injuries every year. The set of laws that covers who is responsible for defective and dangerous products — called “product liability” — is different from ordinary injury liability law, and sometimes makes it easier for an injured person to recover damages.
Strict Liability Defined
Ordinarily, to hold someone liable for your injuries, you must show that they were careless — that is, negligent — and that their carelessness led to the accident.

With products sold to the general public, however, it would be extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive for one individual to have to show how and when a manufacturer was careless (negligent, in legal terms) in making a particular product. Neither can the consumer be expected to prove whether the seller or renter of the product had a proper system for checking for manufacturer’s defects, or whether the seller was the cause of the defect after receiving the product from the maker. Nor, finally, can a consumer be expected to check each product before using it to see if it is defective or dangerous.

For all these reasons, the law has developed a set of rules known as “strict liability” that allows a person injured by a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product to recover compensation from the maker or seller of the product — without showing that the manufacturer or seller was actually negligent. In short, if you have been injured by a consumer product, you are entitled to compensation from the manufacturer or from the business that sold or rented the product directly to you.
Who Can Be Sued
You can always go after a manufacturer for a defective or dangerous product, but you can’t always sue the seller of such a product. Strict liability operates against a non-manufacturer who sold or rented a product only if it is in the business of regularly selling or renting those particular kinds of products. In other words, if you bought something at a flea market stall, garage sale, or thrift store that sells all kinds of things but not any one type of item on a regular basis, strict liability may not apply.
Rules of Strict Liability
Regardless of what steps a manufacturer or seller says it takes in making and handling a consumer product, you can make a strict liability claim — without showing any carelessness on the part of the manufacturer or seller — if all three of the following conditions exist:

1. The product had an “unreasonably dangerous” defect that injured you as a user or consumer of the product. The defect can come into existence either in the design of the product, during manufacture, or during handling or shipment.
2. The defect caused an injury while the product was being used in a way that it was intended to be used.
3. The product had not been substantially changed from the condition in which it was originally sold. “Substantially” means in a way that affects how the product performs.

Time Limits on Lawsuits
Most states have laws limiting how long after a product has been sold to the public the manufacturer or seller can be held liable under strict liability rules. The limits are usually from six to 12 years after the manufacturer initially sold the product. So, in a strict liability claim, you might need to determine how old the product is that injured you.
If You Were Aware of the Defect
Manufacturers and sellers have a defense to claims of strict liability that may be particularly important if you have owned the product for a while: You may not be able to claim strict liability against the manufacturer or seller if you knew about the defect but continued to use the product. If it appears — either from the condition of the product (which the manufacturer’s or seller’s insurance company will have a right to examine) or from your description of your use of the product — that you were aware of the defect before the accident but used the product anyway, you may have given up your right to claim injury damages.