Design defect cases pertaining to product liability law focus on flaws or errors in a product’s design, specifically, the manufacturer’s decision regarding the reasonability of a product’s safety. Dissimilar to a manufacturing defect where the defect only lies within a limited batch caused during the manufacturing phase, a design defect occurs in all products of the same type. Design defects occur within a product line when there are inherent flaws or errors that cause it to be unreasonably dangerous for end consumers.
Definition of Design Defect
A manufacturer’s liability for a design defect occurs when a plaintiff is able to provide evidence that there was a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of danger to a consumer when using a product for its intended purpose. For instance, imagine a gas powered push lawn mower with a chute blocker, but instead of having a chute blocker that touches the ground, this chute blocker starts from six inches off of the ground. While using the lawn mower, the plaintiff’s leg is injured by debris flying out from under the chute blocker. The plaintiff may then be able to present a case of product liability against the manufacturer of the lawn mower, arguing that the lawn mower’s chute blocker was unreasonably sized and it was foreseeable that debris would escape the lawn mower to potentially cause an injury.
Proving a Design Defect
After a plaintiff presents their initial case of a design defect, they must then show the court that it was possible the manufacturer could have implemented an alternative design. The laws for this practice will vary between jurisdictions, but the plaintiff must prove the alternative design is feasible from both an economic and practical standpoint. It must also be stated that proving a design defect liability claim hinges on these two aforementioned factors.
For the example in this case, the plaintiff would have to show how the lawn mower’s chute blocker should be designed differently to avoid causing injuries. Secondly, the cost of the alternative design must not be prohibitively expense or stray away from the products intended use. The expense of implementing the alternative design must also be less than the cost of the damages that may occur if the product design remains the same. The aforementioned damages include but may not be limited to are: medical bills, missed time from work, and expenses of the lawsuits. This process is referred to as the cost-benefit analysis.
After the court collects the necessary information, the court would ask for an estimated cost for alternative designs presented. The court would also estimate the average cost of medical bills associated with the consumer lawn mower injuries, and then multiply that sum with the estimated sum of consumer lawn mower injuries. If the cost of creating an alternative lawn mower design comes out to be less than the expenses of estimated lawn mower injuries, the alternative design would be considered economically feasible for the manufacturer.
Negligence and Strict Liability
When it comes to design defects and estimating the legal costs, the claims by the plaintiff are most often on the basis of negligence and strict liability. A negligence claim is a theory of liability in which a plaintiff alleges that a manufacturer knew or should have known of the risk associated with its product design. The negligence analysis focuses on the manufacturer’s conduct and whether or not they could have made the product design safer.
A strict liability claim alleges that the manufacturer placed a defective product posing an unreasonable risk of danger into the marketplace. Matters not if the product is inherently dangerous by nature, the manufacturer may still be held legally culpable regardless of how precautious they were. Unlike negligence liability that focuses on the manufacturer’s conduct, strict liability is on the focus of the product itself.
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