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Products Liability, Enterprise Liability, and Strict Liability

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Products liability is a unique type of personal injury law, and in a way, comes with its own set of rules. There are a few categories of products liability, or ways in which a product can be defective or potentially cause injury. The three (3) main categories of products liability are design defects, manufacturing defects, or warning label defects. Although technically distinct, warning label defect claims often work in conjunction with either of the former two (2) claims or can be standalone claims themselves.
 
The most common type of products liability litigation pertains to the design of a given product. This means that the product that caused harm did not simply “come off the assembly line” in a dangerous condition. Rather, when making a design defect claim, the plaintiff is alleging that each item of the said product is dangerous. In other words, the plaintiff is claiming that the device or product is inherently dangerous because of an oversight in the producing company’s design process, hence the name. See Connick v. Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd., 675 N.E.2d 584, 598 (1996) (McMorrow, J. concurring in part and dissenting in part).
 
MANUFACTURING DEFECTS CLAIMS
 
The second type of products liability claims are manufacturing defects claims. Unlike design defects claims, manufacturing defect claims do not allege that the product line is inherently defect. On the opposite side of the spectrum, manufacturing defects claims allege the producing company erroneously manufactured the single product in possession of the plaintiff, leading to the plaintiff’s injury. Again, strict liability applies here. The bringing party need not prove that the product was negligently manufactured to prevail on their products liability claim. See id.
 
This is where products liability strays the most from traditional tort law and the negligence regime. In order to prevail on a design defect claim, or any products liability claim for that matter, the bringing party does not need to prove that there was a breach of due or reasonable care, or otherwise known as negligence. The plaintiff must only prove that the product proximately caused their injury, and that injury is one recognized under the law. This concept is known as strict liability. Board of Educ. of City of Chicago v. A, C and S, Inc., 131 Ill.2d 428, 440 (1989) (quoting Moorman Manufacturing Co. v. National Tank Co., 91 Ill.2d 69, 88 (1982)).
 
Conclusively, If you have been injured due to a manufacturing defect or a design defect, you must establish: (1) a condition of the product that results from manufacturing or design; (2) the condition made the product unreasonably dangerous; (3) the condition existed at the time the product left the defendant’s control; (4) you suffered an injury; and (5) the injury was proximately caused by the condition. Salerno v. Innovative Surveillance Tech., Inc., 932 N.E.2d 101, 108 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 2010).
 
There are two (2) ways to determine whether a product is unreasonably dangerous, particularly in design defect claims. First is the consumer expectations test, and second is the risk-utility test. Guvenoz v. Target Corp., 30 N.E.3d 404, 423 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 2015) (citing Calles v. Scripto-Tokai Corp, 224 Ill.2d 247, 254 (1994)). Under the consumer expectation test, the bringing party succeeds in proving that the product left the manufacturer’s possession in an unreasonably dangerous condition if “the product failed to perform as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner.” Id. The other test—risk-utility—is a balancing test that weighs “the magnitude of the danger” against “the utility of the product, as designed.” Id. Often, either test is satisfied if the bringing party can identify a “safer alternative design.” Id. at 421. 
 
DEFECTIVE WARNING LABEL CLAIMS
 
The third type of products liability claims are defective warning label claims. Defective warning label claims allege that the user’s manual, danger & warning labels, or some other alerting notification was inadequate. In order to prevail on a warning label claim, the alleged inadequacy must lead the plaintiff to use the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner, albeit incorrectly. This concept is known as the “crashworthiness doctrine.” Thus, even if the plaintiff uses the product incorrectly and injures themselves, compensation is not foreclosed so long as the product did not carry an adequate warning label. 
 
Furthermore, if there is a warning label that tries to deter that specific type of improper use, the warning can still be defective if the label’s text, font, font color, or other stylistic choice is not congruent with the urgency of the potential harm. In other words, a product carrying a warning label about a given improper use may still, nonetheless, be defective if the warning is buried in an extensive user’s manual or is in small or quotidian font. This is especially true if the potential harm is likely, or the potential harm could be devastating.
 
ENTERPRISE LIABILITY
 
Lastly, there is a niche area of products liability law called enterprise liability. Enterprise liability attempts to hold an entire industry accountable for industry-wide defects, usually where a group of large companies set their own safety and/or manufacturing regulations. According to Gregory C. Keating in the Vanderbilt Law Review, there are two components to the core of enterprise liability. Keating, G.C., The Theory of Enterprise Liability and Common Law Strict Liability, 54 Vanderbilt Law Review 1285 (2001). The first is that there are characteristic accident costs. This means that liability and the costs of injury is usually pinned on the random victims of nonnegligent activity or industry. Second, enterprise liability spreads the cost of the lawsuit evenly amongst members of the industry. The doctrine aims to hold the activities or devices—or the enterprise(s) incentivizing the activity or use of said device—accountable for those injuries that they cause. 
 
All in all, products liability makes up a major part of personal injury law and supplies a myriad of options when it comes to recovering for an injury caused by a defective product. However, it is important to contact a personal injury attorney to fully evaluate your situation and to help decide if you can recover financial compensation for your injuries. If you have been injured due to a defective product, the personal injury lawyers at Sherwood Law Group have experience handling complex cases and can help you determine if you have a product liability case.

Our experienced personal injury attorneys will thoroughly evaluate your case and get you the compensation that you rightfully deserve for your injuries. All consultations are free. Contact Sherwood Law Group at 312.627.1650 or info@sherwoodlawgroup.com
Categories: personal injury
 
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