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What does a plaintiff need to prove to prevail in a product liability claim?



Product liability plaintiffs need to prove certain elements to prevail in making their claims. Just what are those requisite elements a product liability litigant must prove? The answer depends on the state in which the plaintiff intends to sue. The answer also depends on which theory of recovery plaintiff chooses to pursue in his or her product liability lawsuit. The primary recovery theories (or bases for legal liability) in product liability litigation include the following:

  • Negligence
  • Tortious misrepresentation
  • Warranty breach
  • Strict liability in tort

Plaintiffs making strict liability claims must prove several elements, not establish fault

Most product liability suits are based upon the theory of strict liability, as opposed to negligence. What is strict liability? Strict liability cases do not require a plaintiff to establish fault on the part of the defendant. Instead, a plaintiff seeking to make a strict liability claim must establish only that a product was defective in nature and quality, that the product injured the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff’s injury was indeed a by-product or end result of the product’s defective quality and nature.

Plaintiff pursuing negligence must prove a few more elements than required for strict liability

Negligence, a type of tort, occupies a central role in product liability jurisprudence. For a plaintiff to recover under a negligence theory of liability, he or she must establish the following things:

  • The manufacturer owed a duty to the plaintiff.
  • The manufacturer breached its owed duty to the plaintiff.
  • The breach of the manufacturer’s duty was the actual cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
  • The breach of the manufacturer’s duty was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
  • The plaintiff sustained actual damages due to the manufacturer’s negligent conduct.

In product liability suits, there is an expectation and legal requirement that a manufacturer practice a reasonable standard of care. That standard is set for those parties considered experts in manufacturing of a given class of products. Even if a plaintiff establishes that a manufacturer does not practice the requisite standard of care, that party is not able to recover against the manufacturer until both types of causation are proved. Those two types of causation are actual and proximate. The plaintiff must prove that but for the manufacturer’s negligent conduct, the plaintiff’s injuries would not have happened. The plaintiff must also establish that the manufacturer could have foreseen risks of injury and harm and uses of the product by the plaintiff. The manufacturer must have been able to foresee those things at the time of manufacturing.

Tortious misrepresentation and breach of warranty claims

Tortious misrepresentation claims in product liability are founded upon false or misleading information communicated by the product’s manufacturer. The false communication forms the crux of this basis for recovery, as opposed to a product defect. Breach of warranty claims are based upon a seller’s guarantees given to a consumer about the quality of a product. The warranty can be express or implied, based upon the nature of the product sale made to the consumer.

The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) has been adopted in all U.S. states. It codifies the basis for American warranties, both express and implied. If you believe you have been injured due to a product defect or a manufacturer's negligence, misrepresentation, or breach of warranty, it is prudent to consult with a product liability attorney.