Consumer Product Liability is a general terms that encompasses a much broader topic. To best understand the term, it is first necessary to know precisely what a consumer product is. When presented in its most simplistic terms, a product that is made available for consumption by the general public, and thus placed into the stream of commerce, is typically considered to be a consumer product. Pursuant to 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301(1) and (3):
- The term “consumer product” means any tangible personal property which is distributed in commerce and which is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes (including any such property intended to be attached to or installed in any real property without regard to whether it is so attached or installed).
(3) The term “consumer” means a buyer (other than for purposes of resale) of any consumer product, any person to whom such product is transferred during the duration of an implied or written warranty (or service contract) applicable to the product, and any other person who is entitled by the terms of such warranty (or service contract) or under applicable State law to enforce against the warrantor (or service contractor) the obligations of the warranty (or service contract).
When a manufacturer makes a defective consumer product available to a consumer, the manufacturer can be held liable for such defects. Liability for consumer products typically arise in one of three categories: (1) Products that fail to adequately warn the consumer, or that fail to provide sufficient or appropriate instruction; (2) Products that were defectively designed; and (3) Products that were manufactured properly. Product liability claims can be brought under several theories of liability, which is often dependent on jurisdiction. These theories include negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty or misrepresentation. Action may also be brought by the federal government for violations in consumer product safety laws.
It can be difficult to determine the source of failure or defect in a consumer product immediately subsequent to the occurrence of an accident. Therefore, consultation by a consumer product expert may prove to be beneficial to causes of action involving product liability. Common examples of expert witnesses in the field of product liability include consumer product packaging or labeling experts, product defect experts, and product design experts. Even though product liability actions are often brought forth with pleadings asserting all three claims of defect, it is perhaps better strategy to have a full understanding regarding the source of injuries sustained as a result of the use, consumption, or purchase of a consumer product.
Beyond consultation, legal support services provided by experts specialized in the field of consumer product can offer valuable assistance during the discovery process. For example, consumer product experts can assist in drafting specific inquiries that can be directed at opposing parties in discovery requests such as interrogatories and requests for production. Likewise, such expertise can provide beneficial direction in formulating non-party requests. Consumer product experts can also assist in the preparation of a precise line of questioning or use during depositions, whether the deposition being taken is that of a consumer, a manufacturer or opposing counsel’s expert. Further, product experts can offer guidance during the actual deposition, as well as provide useful interpretation of transcript content following a deposition.
Similarly, litigation support services provided by expert witnesses in the form of testimony during trial are often vital in proving or disproving claims of liability regarding consumer products. These experts can provide additional evidence to support or negate the existence and amount of damages. Often times, jury members, as lay persons, have difficulty quantifying damage amounts, and therefore presentation of expert testimony can guide the jury in its determination. Through careful examination of all available legal support services that consumer products experts can offer, litigants to product liability actions may realize the beneficial value of such careful preparation.
By: Alicia McKnight, J.D.