20. What is “strict products liability”?
Strict products liability involves the commercial sale of defective products. In most states, any retail, wholesale, or manufacturer who sells an unreasonably dangerous, defective product that causes injury to a user of the product is strictly liable. This applies to commercial sellers who normally sell products like the one causing injury or who place them in the stream of commerce, such as suppliers of defective parts and companies that assemble a defective product.
There are two kinds of defects for purposes of strict product liability:
• Production Defects – A production defect occurs when products are not manufactured to a manufacturer’s own standards. Consumers of the defective product are later injured as a result of this variation from the manufacturer’s standards.
• Design Defects – A design defect occurs when a product is manufactured according to the manufacturer’s standards but is an unsafe design. The product injures a user due to its unsafe design.
If either of these defects makes the product unreasonably dangerous if used as intended, any seller of the product (from manufacturer to retailer) may be liable for an injury caused by the defective product. Strict products liability is useful in protecting individual consumers who suffer personal injury or property damage.
• Discussion: How do you feel about the fact that anyone in the chain of distribution can be liable for design or manufacture defects? Why do you think the law allows for such wide liability?
• Practice Question: Fancy Motors is a car manufacturing company. They develop a new, compact car for the US market. The car has troubles from the minute it comes off of the assembly line. The gas tank is located behind the fender-well of the vehicle. This leads to an increased risk of fire in the event of a rear-end collision. Also, Fancy Motors installed a seatbelt system that is designed to have three points of contact with the car frame. Due to space concerns and a lack of understanding of the seatbelt system, Fancy only attached the seatbelt to the frame in two locations. Can you identify any points of potential liability for Fancy Motors in this scenario?