Legal Theories Regarding Product Liability Cases
Product liability cases may be brought under a number of legal theories. A basic understanding of how these theories work will help to ensure that you take the necessary steps to protect your claim and obtain the justice you deserve. Specifically, cases may be filed alleging that the product was negligently manufactured or designed, or that the product’s designer, manufacturer, or retailer failed to warn of known hazards associated with the operation or use of the product.
Michigan recognizes product liability when the manufacturer or seller of a defective product is negligent in the production of the product or is guilty of breaching either an express or implied warranty. The following is an explanation of the different types of Michigan product liability claims:
A product manufacturer must use reasonable care to eliminate unreasonable risk of harm and or injury to consumers. The law defines “reasonable care” as the degree of care that a reasonably prudent manufacturer would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. In this regard, the product manufacturer must use reasonable care in the construction, design, formulation, development of standards, preparation, processing, assembly, inspection, testing, writing of instructions and warnings, and labeling.
In addition, a product manufacturer must take into consideration that its product may be misused. However, it is not responsible for harm or injury caused by unforeseeable uses.
Negligent Failure to Warn
When the manufacturer of a product knows or should know that the product contains a risk of injury or death, the manufacturer has a legal duty to warn the consumer of the risk. Stachurski v K Mart Corp, 180 Mich App 564, 567 (1989). Manufacturers must provide consumers with “adequate, accurate, and effective” warnings. Ross v Jaybird Automation, Inc, 172 Mich App 603, 606 (1988). A manufacturer’s failure to warn at all, or its failure to provide adequate warnings, will expose it to liability. However, you should know that because the manufacturer must have actual or constructive knowledge before its duty to warn arises, you will have to establish and prove the manufacturer’s knowledge.
Breach of Express Warranty
When a manufacturer or seller of a product makes express representations or warranties regarding its product for a particular use and the product does not live up to the express warranty and, as a result, a person is injured, the injured person may succeed in a claim against the manufacturer or seller under the recognized product liability theory of express warranty. An express warranty is defined under Michigan law as a representation or statement, made in writing or orally, by the manufacturer or seller that its product has certain characteristics or will meet certain standards.
To succeed in a product liability claim based upon breach of an express warranty, the injured person must prove that:
- The manufacturer or seller made an express warranty;
- The injured person relied upon (or was protected by) the warranty;
- The product failed to meet the express warranty;
- The product failed to meet the express warranty at the time it left the manufacturer’s or seller’s control; and
- The failure of the product to meet the express warranty was a significant contributing factor in causing the injury.
Breach of Implied Warranty
An implied warranty is a warranty that comes with all products, requiring the product to be reasonably fit for the purpose or use intended, as well as all purposes and uses of the product that are reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer. In order to prevail on a product liability claim based upon a breach of an implied warranty, an injured person must prove that:
- The product was not reasonably fit for its use or purpose, or for any use which was reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer;
- The product was not reasonably fit for its use or purpose, or a use reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer when it left the manufacturer’s control;
- The breach of the implied warranty was a significant contributing factor in causing the harm or injury.
Michigan Tort Reform, Product Liability Cases
Michigan has unique protections for prescription drug manufacturers and sellers. Under Michigan law, a drug cannot be found defective or unreasonably dangerous if it “was approved for safety and efficacy by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and the drug and its labeling were in compliance with the United States Food and Drug Administration’s approval, at the time the drug left control of the manufacturer or seller.”
The only two exceptions to this rule, which provide enormous protections for drug manufacturers and sellers, are when the manufacturer: (1) intentionally withholds, or misrepresents, information about the drug which is required to be submitted to the United States Food and Drug Administration; or (2) the manufacturer makes an illegal payment to an official or employee of the United States Food and Drug Administration for the purpose of securing or maintaining approval of the drug.
In 1996, Michigan law underwent massive reform with regards to tort law. As a result, these changes had a substantial effect on your ability to bring a product liability action. Although the list of changes is extensive, it is important to highlight several key provisions.
For example, Michigan is now, unfortunately, the only state in the country that has complete immunity against drug manufacturers who sell drugs approved by the FDA. This is unfortunate due to the fact that history shows, time and again, the FDA approves drugs that end up being unsafe to consumers. Additionally, damage caps limit how much an injured party may collect for their injuries. In Michigan, those injured by defective products are limited to $280,000 in non-economic damages and $500,000 for loss of a vital bodily function.