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What are the main defenses raised by defendants to product liability claims?



Product liability cases are a subset of tort cases. They involve defective products that cause harm or injury to end users, consumers, and the public at large. Plaintiffs in product liability litigation have the burden of proof to establish the elements required for legal liability to recover monetary damages. In response to the plaintiff’s case in chief, a defendant can establish one of two things (or both):

  • The plaintiff did not meet the burden of proof he or she had to meet for one or more elements of his or her claim
  • Various defenses against plaintiff’s claim

What defenses do defendants typically raise in product liability cases?

Defendants often argue that a consumer or user was not using the product in the manner intended for its use when that party became injured or harmed. This is called the improper use defense. Alternatively, defendants urge that a plaintiff ignored the warnings, directions, and risks of danger associated with a product’s labeling or packaging. After all, products are only supposed and expected to be safe when they are used in the intended manner.

Defendants could also raise that the plaintiff altered the product once it left the defendant’s control and further that those alterations caused the plaintiff’s injury rather than the product’s original (unadulterated) state. This is referred to as the unforeseeable product alteration defense. Under it, manufacturers argue they cannot possibly control what transpires with their products once they go to a third party. Yet another defense defendants often raise is that the product may have been used in the intended manner but the plaintiff used the product while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

Plaintiff’s negligence is a popular defense posited by defendants

Defendants might also raise a defense that a plaintiff was negligent in his or her own conduct. As a result of that negligence, the plaintiff was injured. The lack of requisite care, prudence, and caution might lessen the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover, in fact.

Comparative fault and contributory negligence are jurisdictionally driven defenses

Depending on the jurisdiction, if you are partially to blame for your injured status, you might lower your recovery to a portion of your damages attributable to the culpable defendant(s). This applies if you are in a comparative fault or comparative negligence jurisdiction. In contributory negligence jurisdictions, if a plaintiff is at fault to any degree for his or her injuries, then the defendant is totally absolved of liability. The plaintiff’s recovery is completely eliminated.

Of course, a third alternative exists, as well. In such cases, a plaintiff’s negligence has absolutely nothing to do with the causes of his or her harm or injury. In such instances, he or she should generally recover completely. If you believe you have been injured by a product, it is prudent to consult a product liability attorney as soon as possible.