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Defenses in Products Liability Lawsuits

Products liability is an area of law that covers personal injuries and property damage caused by defective products. A product might be defective because it was improperly designed or manufactured. If a defective product causes personal injuries or property damage, anyone involved in the manufacture or distribution of the product might be liable for injuries caused by the defect. In many states, you can sue the manufacturer, the wholesaler, the distributor, or the store where the defective product was purchased. There are several defenses that can be raised in a products liability lawsuit. This article covers the following defenses: statutes of limitations, contributory negligence and comparative negligence, product misuse and assumption of risk.

Statutes of Limitations
Statutes of limitations are laws that provide a time period during which a lawsuit must be filed. The typical time period for filing products liability lawsuits for personal injuries is two years. For property damages caused by a defective product, the typical time period for filing lawsuits is three years. Generally, this time period begins to run on the date of the injury.

Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence
The negligence of the owner or operator of a defective product may bar or reduce recovery. A contributory negligence defense claims that a person's own actions caused the injury because that person did not use reasonable care. Most states use a comparative negligence or comparative fault approach. Under a comparative negligence approach, the damages that would have been recovered by a plaintiff are reduced in proportion to the percentage of the his or her negligence.

Assumption of Risk
Assumption of risk means that the plaintiff knew that the product was defective but continued to use it anyway and was injured by it. If the defense of assumption of risk is proved, the plaintiff's recovery may be barred or reduced.

Product Misuse
A plaintiff's misuse or improper use of a product might free a manufacturer of liability or reduce the amount of damages the plaintiff can recover. To be considered misuse of a product, the plaintiff's use of the product has to be one that the manufacturer could not have expected. For example, while a screwdriver is not intended to be used to open a paint can, a person's use of a screwdriver to open a paint can is something that a manufacturer could have anticipated. Such use would not be considered misuse. If the person were injured while using the screwdriver to open the paint can, the defense of product misuse would not prevent recovery for the injuries.