We expect ourselves and our families to be safe in our homes, believing that manufacturers, under the “watchful eye” of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, are selling us safe goods. Tragically, this is oftentimes not the case. Many manufacturers compromise on product safety and the CPSC’s limited resources are woefully insufficient. Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer attorneys have decades of experience in successfully representing victims of unsafe consumer products, such as stoves, gas grills, children’s beds, dressers, folding chairs and lawnmowers. We investigate prior similar accidents, review regulatory oversight, identify alternate safer designs, and hold companies responsible.
According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, millions of Americans are injured each year by consumer products. When unsafe or defective products cause injuries or deaths, the victims or their families may be able to file personal injury lawsuits to recover monetary damages – for lost earnings, medical bills, and oftentimes, most importantly, how the accident has affected your life. In addition to providing needed financial resources to those injured, lawsuits can and have prompted manufacturers to make safer products.
These lawsuits are sometimes referred to as “product safety” or “product liability” cases. The product liability attorneys at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer have decades of experience in representing those injured, or whose family members have been killed, by unsafe consumer products.
Here are just a few examples of clients we have been able to help after they were injured by unsafe consumer products:
- A young boy who was badly burned when an apartment stove tipped over because the stove manufacturer did not properly balance the stove and the apartment owner did not install an “anti-tipover” bracket;
- A young man who was killed by methylene chloride vapors released by the “Aircraft Remover” paint stripper he was using to restore an antique car;
- A woman, having brunch at a national restaurant chain, who ordered lemonade and was instead served bleach, causing devastating burns to her esophagus;
- A family whose home was burned down because of defective wiring in a space heater;
- A do-it-yourselfer who was killed when he was trying to remove a clog from a pipe with a liquid drain cleaner he had purchased at the local hardware store, which was actually sulfuric acid;
- A man who lost vision in one eye when a frisbee shattered because it was made from too brittle plastic; and,
- A baby who suffocated because of crib bumpers.
Potential legal issues in consumer safety cases
There are many important legal issues that can determine whether a consumer product safety case will be successful. It is critical to be represented by an attorney, like those at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, who know how to analyze and work to overcome these hurdles, which include:
- Choice of law: A consumer product may be designed in one state, manufactured in another state, sold in another and cause injury in yet another. Each of these state’s laws may be different as to who you can sue, what you need to prove in order to win, and what damages you can recover. Selecting the right state and the right court in which to file a lawsuit and knowing how to argue for the right law to apply to your case is critically important and can mean the difference between success and failure, or between unjustly small damages and fair compensation.
- Federal Preemption: Many federal laws that are supposed to protect consumers, actually do the opposite and protect manufacturers. Some federal consumer product safety laws apply decades old safety requirements, which the manufacturers use to try and shield themselves from lawsuits.
- Foreign Manufacturers: A growing number of consumer products are manufactured abroad, presenting significant challenges to any lawsuit because it may be impossible to locate or sue the foreign manufacturer. Oftentimes, a lawsuit can be successfully brought against the foreign companies’ local business partners, such as their retailers, or though international treaties.
- Loss of evidence: In the aftermath of a tragic accident, those involved are focused on healing and not lawsuits which means that crucial evidence may be lost. Defendant manufacturers oftentimes accuse the families of losing, destroying or “spoliating” the evidence and ask courts to throw the lawsuits out. It is so crucial to save every piece of evidence involved in an accident and try to photograph where the accident took place before anything can be changed. It is very important to contact us as soon as possible after an accident so that the lawyers at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer can work to ensure that everything is preserved.
Who can be liable for an unsafe product?
Any business or person who is involved with the sale of the product – the chain of distribution – may be held liable for injuries caused by the sale of an unsafe product. The companies include:
- The designer of the product
- The manufacturer of the defective component in the product
- The manufacturer of the fully assembled product
- The company that installed the product
- The wholesaler or distributor who served as the “middle-man” and
- The retail store, or possibly even the internet retailer, that sold the product
Types of product defects
Typically, product safety cases are evaluated to see if there are one or more of three types of product defects: an unsafe design, a manufacturing defect (the product was not made as it was supposed to) or insufficient warnings about both the product’s hazards and how to avoid them.
Design defects are flaws in the design of a product that makes it “unreasonably dangerous.” Every consumer product should be designed so that it will be safe for both its reasonably foreseeable uses and for its reasonably foreseeable misuses. For example, in an electrical appliance, was the wiring thick enough and insulated enough for the voltage of electricity involved? For household chemicals, were the safest chemicals used to formulate the product?
Manufacturing defects occur while the product is being assembled or manufactured and the product is not made according to design. An example would be when a piece of furniture was supposed to be made from flame retardant material and by mistake a flammable fabric is used.
Failure to warn
Injured victims can bring lawsuits if the product is not provided with clear and accurate warnings about the product’s potential hazards and the steps necessary to avoid those hazards. For example, any paint stripper that contains methylene chloride must be labeled with a warning that inhaling the fumes can be fatal, that the paint stripper can never be used indoors, and that most common types of respirators and gloves will not protect you from methylene chloride.
The International Safety Organization (“ISO”) and the American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) write voluntary guidelines for how to identify potential hazards, how to eliminate them, and, to the extent that the hazards cannot be eliminated, what warnings are necessary. Many manufacturers do not follow these guidelines and violate the standards within their industry.
Class action lawsuits in product liability cases
An individual plaintiff can file a product liability claim alone or as a part of a class-action lawsuit. Class-action lawsuits may be filed when an unsafe product causes similar injuries to many different people in the same way. In class action lawsuits, a small group of individuals represent the larger group of people who have suffered similar injuries from the defective product. It makes sense to file a class action lawsuit, or to join a class action lawsuit, when the damages that each individual might receive is nominal, making the legal costs of filing an individual lawsuit higher than the value that an injured victim could recover in an individual lawsuit. Before a product liability lawsuit can be designated as a class action, the court must certify it as such. Class action lawsuits usually are oftentimes not appropriate for consumers who have suffered serious injuries.
Product liability based on food-borne illnesses or poisoning
Food-borne illnesses and food poisoning product liability claims are increasing. These claims may be filed against any party involved in the distribution chain.
The primary issue in food poison product liability claims is proving a relationship between the injury and the consumed food. In many instances, the food is thrown away or consumed by the time that the individual demonstrates symptoms or injury. Evidence that helps prove the case includes samples of other food from the same batch from the supplier or manufacturer. The plaintiffs may also show evidence of bacteria in the food supply and the victim. Finally, if the plaintiff saved the food, he or she can present evidence with the actual product that was eaten. At Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, our product liability attorneys can help gather the evidence that is required to prove a claim and to determine the particular cause of action to be pursued.
Damages that might be recovered in a product liability claim
The amount of monetary damages that can be recovered varies from case to case and depends on the severity of the injury, the extent of the losses, and other factors. Monetary damages in product liability lawsuits generally are broken down to include compensatory and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages include special and general damages. Special damages include monetary amounts to pay for a victim’s actual financial losses, including:
- Past medical expenses
- Future expected medical and rehabilitative costs
- Past income losses
- Future expected income losses
- Property losses
- In wrongful death claims, reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- In wrongful death claims, lost inheritance rights
General damages compensate plaintiffs for their non-economic losses and tend to be more challenging to value. Some of the categories of general damages include:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Reduction in the ability to enjoy life
- Loss of consortium and guidance
The purpose of compensatory damages is to make plaintiffs financially whole after the accident. By contrast, punitive damages serve as punishment for a defendant’s wrongful conduct. One of the primary reasons that punitive damages are recoverable is to deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future. Generally, plaintiffs can only recover punitive damages where the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious. For example, a jury may award punitive damages if a defendant knows that a product is unreasonably dangerous and hides evidence of its hazardous nature, resulting in severe injuries or deaths.
Get help from a product liability attorney
Proving a product liability claim requires an in-depth investigation to uncover evidence to support the claim and to identify all of the parties that should be named as defendants to the lawsuit. Injuries that are caused by defective products can leave the victims suffering from severe emotional, physical, and financial stress. Lawyers at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer understand the way to investigate product liability claims and will work to recover damages to compensate an injury victim. If a defective or unsafe consumer product has seriously injured you or your loved one, we may be able to help. Contact us today for a free evaluation of your claim by filling out our online contact form or by calling us at 1-800-535-1797.
If you or a loved one has been critically injured do to someone else’s negligence, please click here to fill out the contact form, or call 1-800-535-1797 and someone from our team will be ready to help.
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An apartment stove tipped over when a five-year-old boy stood on its open door while trying to reach a pot.