The recent voluntary recall by Fisher-Price is an example of how responsible companies should act if a dangerous defect in their products is discovered. Manufacturers that don’t follow suit may face lawsuits based on defective product liability.
Last October the well-known toy manufacturing company, Fisher-Price, voluntarily recalled approximately 65,000 infant motion seats. The seats are interactive and are designed to soothe babies by swaying, vibrating, rocking, and playing music or nature sounds.
The main feature of the product is, unfortunately, also where its potentially dangerous flaw lies. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the motor of the device can overheat, posing a fire hazard. Fisher-Price decided to announce a recall after receiving no less than 36 reports concerning the overheating problem. One of the reports mentioned a motor bursting into flames. The recall affects two products and the total of 5 models: Fisher-Price Soothing Motion Seats CMR35, CMR36, CMR37 and DYH22 as well as Smart Connect Soothing Motion Seats CMR39. The products were sold in major retail stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us, Target or Walmart and through online retailers such as Amazon. The company is offering a full refund to customers who purchased the recalled products.
This is not the first recall of this kind for Fisher-Price. In mid-2016, the manufacturer recalled several models of its infant cradle swings. That time, the risk was that the seat could potentially fall from the base of the swing and result in injury. No actual harm was ever claimed, but Fisher-Price decided to take as many as 34,000 items off the market after receiving just two reports of the potential hazard.
In 2010, the same company voluntarily recalled a staggering 11 million infant toys and products after research had discovered various potential hazards including a choking hazard for a Little People toy and falling hazards for a trike and a highchair. That particular recall was estimated to have cost Fisher-Price between $3 million and $4 million.
The willingness of companies to suffer considerable financial losses for the sake of their customer’s safety is admirable. Especially in the case of products designed for children. The trust that consumers put in products they use is implicit. If a company knowingly violates that trust, the consequences can be more significant than low customer satisfaction: health and even lives are at stake.
Of course, taking measures to ensure that a particular product does not possess any inherent safety risk is also a viable way to avoid potential lawsuits and money lost in settlements. Sadly, for some companies, neither their customers’ safety nor the risk of possible legal action is enough of an incentive to take responsible action when a safety hazard related to their products becomes known.
For example, in September of last year, we reported on how Johnson & Johnson had seemed to have been ignoring research which showed a link between the use of their talcum-based body powder and ovarian cancer for decades. Even though the scientific community is divided on the issue, the company is now facing at least 4,800 separate lawsuits across the country.
Fortunately, the law protects consumers if they suffer harm due to a defective product. Here’s how.
Manufacturer’s Liability Due to a Defective Product
In the U.S., consumers can bring personal injury claims and lawsuits against manufacturers or sellers if they experience harm or injury related to the use of a product under product liability law. Product liability law states that manufacturers and sellers can be held liable if they push to market products that are defective and may cause injury. A defective product is defined as one whose ordinary use can result in harm to the consumer due to one of the following underlying causes: defective design, defective manufacture, or defects in warnings and instructions.
Defective design means that a product has an inherent flaw which makes its use dangerous. For example, if a car model experiences oversteering problems that can cause a rollover because of the way the center of gravity was placed in a particular model, the car company may face product liability lawsuits based on defective design.
Defective manufacturing means that a product presents injury risk due to a fault or error in the manufacturing process. For example, if a batch of cough syrup were tainted with a toxic substance that can cause adverse health effects, any potential liability claim would be based on defects in manufacturing rather than design defects since the problem would only concern a specific batch of tainted syrup.
Insufficient warning, failure to warn, and inadequate instructions have to do with whether a company provided the consumer with the information he or she needed to use the product safely. If a product poses a danger to the consumer in a way that is not immediately apparent, and the manufacturer fails to provide a warning or an instruction explaining the proper use of the product, they may be held liable for any potential harm. Toys often come with a warning about choking hazard and over-the-counter drugs have information about dangerous interactions with other drugs. These are just some examples of how responsible manufacturers protect their consumers and avoid potential product liability lawsuits arising from defects in warnings.
Theories of Liability in Defective Product Claims
A theory of liability relates to a legal basis from which the liability of a defendant may arise. Product liability claims and lawsuit are usually based on the following three theories of liability: negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty.
Negligence: a product’s manufacturer owes a duty of care to those who will buy and use the product, or who can be affected by its use. If a product has a dangerous defect that was known to the manufacturer or reasonably should have been known, then the manufacturer, either through action or omission has failed to exercise proper or ordinary care. If such a defect causes harm or injury, the injured party may file a claim based on negligence.
Strict liability: in claims based on strict liability, a plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that the manufacturer was negligent. For a claim to be based on the principle of strict liability, the product must be shown to be unreasonably dangerous, and the injury or harm must have occurred in connection to the normal use of the product. In addition, the product must not have been substantially changed or altered from its original design and state.
Breach of warranty: A product manufacturer is responsible for honoring their warranty that ensures a certain level of quality and reliability. For example, a product should work as advertised and shouldn’t break unexpectedly. If an injury occurs because the manufacturer failed to meet these standards, the consumer may file a personal injury claim.
Product liability laws offer American consumers vital protection against companies and manufacturers who might take the health and safety of their clients lightly. While lawsuits based on product liability may sometimes turn into long legal battles, irresponsible corporations should be held liable for their carelessness or negligent actions. Those who suffered injuries or harm due to a defective product may count on the assistance of skilled product liability attorneys in their fight for legal recognition and compensation for the damage sustained.