Product Liability and Wrongful Death Law

A product sold in stores must be safe for consumers to use. When a product is defective, whether due to how the product was designed, assembled or marketed, and somebody tragically loses their life because of the defect, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed against the responsible party or parties.

Products that are frequently involved in defective product lawsuits include:

  • Cars and car parts
  • Medical devices (such as a defibrillator or pacemaker)
  • Consumer products (such as power tools or kitchen appliances)
  • Children's products (such as a car seat or high chair)
  • Machinery and industrial products

If you have lost a loved one due to a defective product, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation related to medical bills, funeral expenses, and pain and suffering, even if it is the furthest thing from your mind as you try to process your grief.

Product Defects That Could Cause Wrongful Death

Broadly speaking, there are three classes of defects that can lead to a product liability lawsuit:

  • Design defects are inherent to the design of the product. Implied in this claim is the recognition that safer design alternatives were available than the product that was released. Sometimes a design defect will lead to a mass recall of the defective product.
  • Manufacturing defects are those that occur in the assembly or manufacturing of a specific product. A manufacturing defect implies that other products of the same design did not fail.
  • Marketing defects are those that stem from the user of the product not being given proper information on how to safely use the product, resulting in a fatal accident.

The most famous example of a design defect in America was the Ford Pinto, which in the 1970's had to be recalled en masse because the gas tank was designed to sit in the back of the vehicle, making the vehicles prone to fires. In this example, there is nothing that could have been done at the assembly or marketing phases to prevent the hazard that a flawed design had created.

A good example of a manufacturing defect is this $3,800,000 settlement that Block O'Toole & Murphy won, in which a man suffered severe back injuries when the step on his tractor trailer unexpectedly broke. In our investigation of the accident, it was found that there were multiple examples of steps welded by the Defendant unexpectedly failing, indicating a manufacturing flaw that was not related to how the product was designed or advertised.

The most famous example of a marketing defect is so ingrained in our culture that we hardly notice it anymore. There was a time when cigarettes and other tobacco products were sold with no mention of potentially adverse health effects. In the 1980's, however, lawsuits began to be filed against tobacco companies, claiming that they had failed to warn consumers of the health problems their products could cause. This is why cigarettes now include a warning from the Surgeon General about the health risks tobacco can cause.

Regardless of what product somebody is using, they expect it to work as it was designed and advertised. When this doesn't happen, and somebody is tragically killed, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed to recover compensation related to the fatal accident.

Who Can Be Sued in a Product Liability Claim?

A product defect can occur at various stages in the design, manufacturing or advertising of a commercial product, vehicle or machine. If somebody is killed in an accident resulting from a defective product, anybody along the supply chain can theoretically be held responsible, such as:

  • The product manufacturer
  • The manufacturer of any parts of the product, such as the brakes on a vehicle
  • The party that assembled the product
  • The wholesaler
  • The retailer that actually sold the product to the consumer

In any lawsuit, the question of who will be held accountable depends on the specific facts of the case. Broadly speaking, however, the liable party of a wrongful death lawsuit can be determined once your attorney understands what product defect(s) caused the fatal accident, they can work backwards to understand who is responsible for the defect, and thus the wrongful death.

Legal Theory Behind a Product Liability Lawsuit

There are many different ways a product defect can cause a wrongful death, and depending on the exact nature of the defect, a wrongful death lawsuit in New York may be brought primarily under three legal theories: negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty.

Under the theory of strict liability, the Defendant, whether they are a manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer, or other party, is held responsible for a wrongful death caused by a defective product that they sold, regardless of whether they were aware of the defect. If a product is unsafely designed, but there were safer designs available, a manufacturer does not need to have been aware of the alternative designs to be held responsible for the design defect.

Under the theory of negligence, a Defendant could be held responsible for a wrongful death if they were proven not to have acted as a reasonable party would have. If, for example, a tire manufacturer decides to use a lower-grade screw to save money, and that screw causes the tire to fail, resulting in a fatal accident, it could be determined that the manufacturer did not behave as a reasonably prudent party would have, and thus is guilty of negligence in the wrongful death suit.

Under the theory of breach of warranty, a Defendant could be held liable for misrepresenting their product to the consumer. If a product is marketed or labeled in a certain way, but then a consumer is killed while trying to use the product for the purpose it was advertised for, the party responsible for the advertising or labeling could be held liable.

In strong product defect lawsuits, the victim of the accident should be demonstrated to have been using the product as it was intended when the accident occurred. One common defense to a product liability lawsuit would be that the person who was injured or killed was misusing the product, and that the accident would not have occurred if not for this misuse.

Product liability lawsuits are complicated, in part due to the number of parties involved in the supply chain. Sometimes, it is difficult to determine where responsibility lies in the manufacturing and assembly of a product. As with all other wrongful death lawsuits, you should contact an experienced attorney for qualified advice about the unique facts of your case.

Wrongful Death Lawyers in New York

Product liability cases involving wrongful death can be complex. Proving that the manufacturer or similar entity was responsible for an individual's death can involve the assistance of doctors, engineers and other professionals who have a thorough understanding of product development, medicine and government regulations.

Fortunately, our New York wrongful death attorneys have built relationships with these professionals to ensure each of our client's claims has a strong foundation. If a loved one has died as a result of defective medical device, drug or product, call 212-736-5300 or fill out our contact form so that we can assist you with your lawsuit.

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