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A Guide to California Product Liability Law

California Defective Product Law

In our modern world we all use and depend on products on a daily basis. We depend on cars to get us to work and school and back. We depend on telephones and computers to communicate. Almost everything we do on a day to day involves depending on products to be manufactured and designed safely. None of us has the expertise to adequately evaluate all the products we use for safety. Instead, we rely on manufacturers to sell us safe products.

When a consumer is seriously injured or killed by an unsafe product that was being used in a foreseeable manner, the manufacturer, retailer, distributor and/or others who helped bring the product to market may be legally responsible for the harm caused by the defective product. When this occurs, consumers injured by the defective product may recover money damages.

Every State has different product liability laws. In this article we discuss California product liability law / California product safety law.

Under California law, there are three ways to hold a manufacturer (and others who help bring the product to market) strictly liable for injuries caused by its product:

(1) If the product is defectively manufactured;

(2) If the product is defectively designed; or

(3) If the product is distributed without sufficient warnings or instructions about its potential for harm.


Manufacturing Defect

A product is defectively manufactured if it contains some unintended flaw. That is, if the product differs from the manufacturers intended result.

For example, a car with a defective weld, a bottle with a crack, a power tool with a defective rivet.


Design Defect

There are two tests for establishing a design defect:

(1) Under the consumer expectations test, if the plaintiff shows that the product failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when using the product in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner; and

(2) Under the risk-benefit test, where the trier of fact is asked to balance the risk of danger inherent in the challenged design versus the feasibility of a safer design, the gravity of the danger, and the adverse consequences to the product of a safer design.

A determination of the risk-benefit issue involves technical issues of feasibility, cost, practicality, risk, and benefits.

Examples of defectively designed products are a car with an extruding bolt that causes the gas tank to explode with minor rear end impacts, flammable children's pajamas, tractors without roll bars and seat belts, children toys made with lead paint, and products made with shoddy materials that were manufactured in China.


Warning Defect

In failure to warn cases, a flawlessly designed or manufactured product becomes defective if the manufacturer fails to warn of the product's dangerous propensities. There are two main types of product liability failure to warn:

(1) Failure to provide proper use instructions, and

(2) Failure to warn of side effects and harms that can be caused by the product.

Examples of failures to warn are aerosol paints that don't warn users that a fan can cause the paint fumes to explode, drug manufacturers that don't warn of known side effects, and toy manufacturers that don't warn of choking hazards posed by the toy.

If you or a family member has been seriously injured by a defective product you are strongly advised to consult with a seasoned California product liability lawyer.


William Turley
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