Defective Product Claims

What Is Product Liability And How Can It Be Proven?

Receiving a faulty or unsafe product can cause confusion and mistrust among consumers and despite clearly defined regulations designed to protect consumers there are regular reports that people are being injured or developing illnesses due to faulty or unsafe product.

Compensation claims for unsafe or defective products

But what can be done if you are injured or develop an illness due to the failure of a company to provide a safe and secure product?

If you have been injured or have developed an illness or sickness because of a faulty product then you may be entitled to compensation.

Some of the key points to consider when making a product liability claim include:

What Does Product Liability Mean?

In its simplest form, product liability outlines that requirement of businesses to ensure that the products that they supply to consumers are safe.

The definition of 'safe' depends on the type of business and the products that they are supplying to consumers, however all producers, manufacturers, and importers have a responsibility to ensure that products are safe by:

  • Warning consumers about any potential risks associated with using a particular product
  • Providing information to help consumers understand any risks of using a product
  • Monitoring products and ensure that they remain safe after sale
  • Taking due action if a problem is found with a product – this usually involves a product recall

Product liability applies to all industries and any business that imports, manufactures, or supplies goods are required by law to ensure that their goods are safe.

The regulatory framework for product safety is derived from both national and European legislation and is designed to protect consumers from unsafe products by setting strict guidelines for product safety.

If a product is intended for use by a consumer, or it can be reasonably expected that they will use the product, must adhere to the wide regulatory framework.

Items that are described as 'high-risk' and therefore particularly monitored for safety compliance include:

  • Toys
  • Fireworks
  • Food and medicines

While product liability is usually associated with defective products, claims for accidents involving fireworks, as well as food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses, can be made under the umbrella term of product liability.

Trading Standards are the main enforcement authorities that investigate businesses if they believe that unsafe products are being produced and supplied to consumers. If Trading Standards officers believe that unsafe products are being produced or sold they can:

  • Order that the products stop being sold
  • Ask a court to pass a ruling to destroy the defective products
  • Begin criminal proceedings, which could result in heavy fines or imprisonment
  • Demand a recall of the unsafe product

How Can Product Liability Be Proven?

Establishing product liability can be difficult, especially due to the large amount of defences that are available to companies. Products that are defective, break after reasonable usage, and cause an injury can result in a liability claim against the manufacturer, however not all products are this simple.

In instances of food stuffs going bad and causing illness, liability can be more difficult to prove. This is because causation of the illness can be contested and the only real way to stake a claim against a food supplier or producer would be if multiple people ate the same food and all became ill.

Product liability can be claimed even if user error resulted in a defective product causing injury or harm, however the extent of the user error and its effect on the product will be considered when calculating a compensation claim.

Many companies take out liability insurance, to ensure that they are covered from compensation claims.

Compensation After Product Liability Is Established

Once product liability is established claims can be made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

Part 1 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 ensures that consumers can recover any losses caused by a defective product. It also clearly defines who is liable and what is meant by the term 'damages' – which, in this instance, means death, personal injury, or any loss or damage to a property.

The protections provided by product liability regulation should ensure that consumers never receive faulty, defective, or unsafe products; however sometimes this is not the case and unsafe and defective products can end up in the hands of consumers.

If you have received an unsafe product that caused serious injury, illness, or damage to your property you have a right to make a compensation claim to re-cooperate the money lost because of the defective item.

What Can You Claim For?

Commonly, compensation claims arise as a result of:

  • Unsafe or contaminated food: If you suffer food poisoning because of unsafe or contaminated food, a subsequent compensation claim could be made to mitigate any loss in earnings while you recovered from the illness.
  • Unsafe consumer products: Reports often hit the news of unsafe consumer technology, especially with items containing potentially volatile lithium batteries, in these instances any injuries or damage to property caused by the unsafe item could be re-cooperated via a compensation claim.
  • Defective safety equipment: Product liability extends to personal protective equipment, as such any items that are not fit for purpose and do not protect their wearer from injury could result in a compensation claim.
  • Medical devices: In most instances of injuries suffered in a medical environment, a medical negligence claimed could be made, however if the medical professional administering care acted in accordance to guidelines and it was the equipment or device that failed and caused harm then the claim could fall under product liability, with responsibility falling on the manufacturer.
  • Unsafe toys: Due to the vulnerability of the children that use them, toys are one of the most common product types that are involved in liability cases. With most toys containing small parts, they are subject to strict guidelines on labelling and safety instructions, with these guidelines attempting to minimise the risk posed to children from their favourite toys.

Is There A Time Limit On Claims?

Generally speaking, the Consumer Protection Act 1987 allows claims to be made up to 3 years after damage or injury has been caused by a faulty product.

In some instances, any damage or injury caused by a faulty product may not be immediately apparent; in these circumstances the 3 year time limit is extended and begins from the date you knew, or should have reasonably known, about the damage.

It is important to note that there is a back stop on these extended time limits and a claim against a faulty product cannot be made more than 10 years after it was put into circulation.

If you are unsure of when a particular product went into circulation, or if your claim is still within the specified time limits, one of our team can clarify dates and help identify if you are able to proceed with your case.

Getting Help With Your Claim

With companies able to use various defences against product liability claim, it is important that consumers understand that they can get help with the product liability claim. The process for making a compensation claim against a defective product is as follows:

  1. Establish that a defective product caused personal injury or physical damage
  2. Identify that the manufacturer, supplier, or producer of the product did not follow safety regulations
  3. File a compensation claim against the company with a court, once filed the court will contact the negligent party to let them know that compensation is being sought against them
  4. If product liability is clear and the company does not feel they can post an adequate defence they may offer a settlement before the final court date. If this happens then a negotiation period will begin and the company's liability insurer will pay the final settlement amount
  5. In instances where the company denies liability and feels they have a sufficient defence the claim will go to court, whereby an independent judge will hear the details of a case and will rule on the merits of the claim

Starting a compensation claim may seem like a daunting process, but with the correct legal advice from a friendly and approachable team you will be supported at every step.

There are strict time limits for pursuing compensation for defective products, so please contact our helpline on freephone: 0808 129 3320 or alternatively complete our quick enquiry form and a member of our staff will contact you.

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Melanie Burden | Partner, Head of Personal Injury | Simpson Millar LLP

Melanie Burden
Head of Personal Injury

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