Proving a product is defective is a critical component of successful defective product injury cases.
Georgia defective product injury claims are most often based on strict liability, negligence or breach of warranty. The requirements for proving a product is defective may be different, depending on which of these "theories of liability" the injured person uses as the legal basis for an injury claim.
When is a Product Considered Defective?
Proving that a particular product is defective requires an in-depth knowledge of complex state and federal laws governing product safety. Even if a product causes a serious injury, that alone is not sufficient proof that the product is defective.
Not all products can be made completely safe. Therefore, a product manufacturer or seller is not required to provide a completely safe product. Most drugs and medical devices carry at least some potential for dangerous side effects. Similarly, many other consumer products have a certain degree of risk associated with their use. For example, a "completely safe" stove would never get hot enough to injure someone, but it also wouldn't get hot enough to cook food effectively.
Therefore, Georgia courts often define a defective product as a product whose potential risks outweigh the potential benefits.
Making Strict Liability Claims Against Product Manufacturers
Georgia law holds product manufacturers "strictly liable" for injuries that occur due to product defects. This means that a product manufacturer can potentially be held financially responsible for defective product injuries, even if the manufacturer had no knowledge that the product was defective.
Remember, a product manufacturer is not liable for every single injury that occurs. However, they can potentially be held strictly liable for injuries resulting from product defects. Strict liability claims are most often based on the following types of defects:
- The original design of the product was faulty. For example, many recent hernia mesh lawsuits allege that the mesh contracted, moved or otherwise failed due to defective design, resulting in severe injuries to patients who underwent hernia repairs.
- Even if the design was safe, a product could be manufactured incorrectly. Manufacturing defects include things like using faulty components, incorrect assembly, and contamination. For example, it is not uncommon for drugs to be recalled because they were contaminated during the manufacturing process.
- Product manufacturers are also required to warn of potential side effects, risks, and dangers associated with using a product. For example, drug manufacturers must follow detailed regulations regarding warning consumers of the potential dangers of taking a particular drug. If a drug manufacturer did not provide adequate warnings and an injury occurred, the injured person may be able to make a "failure to warn" claim against the company.
Proving negligence in defective product cases
Negligence is another potential basis for product injury claims. Negligence claims can be brought against defective product sellers, distributors or retailers, in addition to product manufacturers. However, the duties of sellers, distributors, and retailers are more limited than those of manufacturers, and in many cases, it may not be possible to bring product liability claims against such parties.
Unlike strict liability claims, negligence claims generally require that a product manufacturer or seller knew—or should have known—that a product was defective. For example, hundreds of city, county, and state governments have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies alleging that the manufacturers knew that prescription opioids had a high potential for addiction and overdose. Despite this knowledge, the companies claimed that prescription opioids were safe and had a low likelihood of addiction or overdose.
Negligence claims in defective product cases are similar to other personal injury negligence claims, in that the injured person must generally prove these basic elements of negligence:
- There was a duty of care, and that duty was breached. The product manufacturer or seller had a duty to provide a reasonably safe product. If a manufacturer or seller breaches that duty, they can potentially be held responsible for injuries that occur. For example, if a manufacturer knew a medical device was likely to fail and continued to produce and sell the device, this might be considered a breach of duty. Lawsuits against DePuy Orthopaedics regarding their Pinnacle hip implant are an example of this. These lawsuits alleged that the company knew its hip implants could degrade over time, resulting in toxic metals being released into patients' bodies.
- Because the product manufacturer or seller failed to provide a reasonably safe product, an injury occurred.
- The injury resulted in damages. Damages can include medical bills or lost wages due to missed work, as well as non-monetary damages such as pain and suffering.
Making a Breach of Warranty Claim Against a Defective Product Manufacturer or Seller
There are two types of warranties: explicit and implied. If a product does not meet the standards described in either an explicit or implicit warranty, a breach of warranty may have occurred.
An explicit warranty is a claim made by a product manufacturer or seller that a product will work in a certain way. For example, a medical device manufacturer may explicitly state that a pacemaker will function for a certain number of years before it needs to be replaced. If the device fails earlier than the explicit warranty states, and an injury occurs, the injured person may be able to make a breach of warranty claim against the manufacturer.
Under Georgia law, many product sales are also covered by an implied warranty, even if there is no explicit warranty. For example, Georgia law holds that there is an implied warranty that products are merchantable when they are sold, meaning they are of "fair average quality" and they are "fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used." (See GA Code § 11-2-314).
Proving a product was defective
Regardless of the legal theory underlying a defective product liability claim, generally the injured person must be able to demonstrate that:
- The product was defective. This can be very complicated to prove. For example, proving a drug is defective requires in-depth scientific and medical knowledge of drug chemistry, potential interactions, and potential side effects, as well as knowledge of the federal and state regulations governing drug safety.
- The product was still in basically the same condition as when it was sold. If the product was altered or damaged after it was sold, it may not be possible to prove the product was defective.
- The product was used as intended, or in a way the manufacturer could reasonably foresee it would be used. For example, if a person got sick because they took three times the recommended dosage of a heart medication, he or she likely was not using the product as intended.
The injured person must also prove that the product defect caused his or her injuries. Proving that a defective product caused injuries can be particularly difficult in defective drug and medical device cases. A person taking medication or using a medical device is generally ill or injured already. This can make it difficult to prove that a defective product--rather than a pre-existing condition--caused the injuries.
Proving a product is defective is also complicated by Georgia's negligence laws. Under Georgia law, if the injured person was partly responsible for his or her injuries, the amount he or she receives in damages can be reduced or eliminated. Therefore, defective product manufacturers or sellers will often try to prove that injured parties are partially or wholly responsible for their own injuries.
Defective product cases are complicated, and device manufacturers and sellers will try their best to prove that they are not financially responsible for any resulting injuries. If you or a loved one were injured due to a defective product, you need experienced legal representation to get the compensation you are due. Contact the Hadden Law Firm today.