The purpose of Product Liability laws

Abstract

The purpose of Product Liability laws is to assist consumers in protecting and defending themselves from products that prove to be dangerous; and at the same time, having the appropriate business or chain of businesses be held accountable for putting into the marketplace products should have known were faulty in the first instance. According to Larson (2003) Product liability law, is the administrative body that concerns accountability and all legal responsibility of manufacturers and subsequent chain of distribution and retail for damages inflicted upon by the products they create. Liability for respective parties involved as products go from manufacturer to consumer will vary in accordance with a nation’s rule of command. This paper examines the law of product liability as it pertains to the United States related and compared to that of Trinidad and Tobago.

Product Liability

According to Stapleton (1994), Product liability refers to the liability of any or all parties along the chain of manufacture of any product for damage caused by that product. This includes the manufacturer of component parts (at the top of the chain), an assembling manufacturer, the wholesaler, and the retail store owner (at the bottom of the chain). Products containing inherent defects that cause harm to a consumer of the product, or someone to whom the product was loaned, given, etc., are the subjects of product liability suits. While products are generally thought of as tangible personal property, product liability has stretched that definition to include intangibles (gas), naturals (pets), real estate (house), and writings (navigational charts). Product liability claims can be based on negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty of fitness depending on the jurisdiction within which the claim is based (Stapleton, 1994).

Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America are two countries full of very particular, though not always satisfied–consumers of everything from electrical goods and modern technology to cosmetics and clothing. Despite the fact that these products are received with high expectations for safety and function, this may not often be the case. There are instances when some products may be faulty or defected and as a result they cause serious personal injury to consumers. This is where Product Liability comes into play.

United States Product Liability Laws

American consumers purchase products they believe to be valuable to their development. One underling variable is a constant when it comes to purchasing the product. The variable; whether the product is right for the consumer. When the particular product is purchased, the consumer is liable for accidents that may occur. Producers are in no way fully liberated from the legal responsibilities or liability of their product to the consumers. This is where product liability legal issues come from. Product liability is the producer's requirement to warn the consumer of and any possible troubles associated with the product (Larson, 2003).

All consumers can make a product liability claim against a manufacturer of a product that could be shown to have caused personal injury. This personal injury could include anything from burn injuries caused by faulty Christmas tree lights, facial scarring after use of contaminated face cream or salmonella from consuming factory produced confectionary. There are four main types of compensation claims that can be made under the United States product liability law:

• Manufacturing: contamination occurs during the manufacturing process

• Design: a product is poorly designed and presents a danger

• Warnings: a manufacturer fails to display warnings on a dangerous product

• Failure to recall: a manufacturer finds fault with a product but fails to recall product (Larson, 2003).

Many states have enacted comprehensive product liability statutes. These statutory provisions can be so diverse that the United States Department of Commerce has spread a model uniform Product Liability Act (MUPLA) for voluntary use by the states. There is no federal product liability law (Shapo, 1990).

Product Liability is generally considered a strict liability offense. Strict liability wrongs do not depend on the degree of carefulness by the defendant. Translated to product liability terms, a defendant is liable when it is shown that the product is defective. It is irrelevant whether the manufacturer or supplier exercised great care; if there is a defect in the product that causes harm, he or she will be liable for it. However, Strict liability won't apply if you were using the product in a way the manufacture didn't intend. If someone used a screwdriver to pry open a bottle cap and cut themselves as a result, the manufacturer of the screwdriver couldn't be held responsible. If the screwdriver injured someone because it broke while they were tightening a screw then strict liability would apply.

Product liability law is found mainly in state judge-made law or what is known as common law. In the Uniform Commercial Code, article 2 of the UCC deals with the sales of goods and it has been adopted by most states. In it, the most important product liability sections are the implied and express warranties of merchantability in the sales of goods §§ 2-314 and 2-315. Products liability is derived mainly from Torts law.

According to Miller (2005) many states have passed laws, called statues of repose, placing outer time limits on some claims so that the defendant will not be left vulnerable to lawsuits indefinitely. These statues may limit the time within which a plaintiff can file a product liability suit.

The final step in the development of strict product liability came in 1963. The California Supreme Court issued a decision known as Greenman v. Yuba Power Products. In it, Chief Justice Roger Traynor took the final step in the creation of modern product liability law and pointed out what had long been obvious to many commentators: an implied warranty that ran with the product was a legal fiction created to achieve a desired result. Justice Traynor made it clear that the liability is not one governed by the law of contract warranties but by the law of strict liability in tort. To establish the manufacturer’s liability it was sufficient that plaintiff proved he was injured while using the product in a way it was intended to be used as a result of a defect in the design and manufacture of which the plaintiff was not aware that made the product unsafe for its intended use. In so ruling, the California Supreme Court became the first court in the United States to adopt this rule.1 It was not, however, the last. The doctrine of strict product liability in tort is, for the most part, now the law in every one of the fifty states (Stearns, 2001).

Trinidad & Tobago Product Liability Laws

Product Liability Laws are basically the same across the board. However in Trinidad these laws are often not enforced as much as in the United States. Trinidad does not have a Bill of Rights which puts them at a disadvantage and so they are not as aware as Americans who are aware of their rights and are more likely to litigate product liability. Even though there is the Consumer Protection Division; younger nationals prove to be greatly unaware of their rights despite the respective ministries making an effort for consumer education via library services and training (Consumer Protection and Safety Act, 1998).

Under the Ministry of Legal affairs, the action plan includes a review of existing regulation. The Consumer Protection and Safety Act, No. 30 of 1985, provides the legislative basis for overall consumer protection. However the mechanisms/procedures needed for its proper enforcement are lacking. Revision of this statute is set to address a revision of all goods and services to help protect the consumer including safety regulations.

U.S Law vs. Trinidad & Tobago Law- Product Liability

Product liability has in the brief space of the last two decades grown to enormous proportions in the USA. According to some experts product litigation is, or will become very soon, the most litigated field of tort liability leaving traffic accidents and medical malpractice behind (Tebbens, 1979). Trinidad and Tobago has escaped such American style litigation due to various barriers to excessive litigation. Some of these barriers are simply inclusive of the general culture and law of lower expectations of damages. Due also to the fact that despite the Trinidad and Tobago’s bureau of standards and the Consumer Affairs Division, many nationals are in fact not incredibly knowledgeable regarding their rights or lack thereof.

Litigation may be slightly discouraged by the Trinidad and Tobago political and social climate. Unless similar barriers or other barriers such as; absence of punitive damages, contingent fees and even the lower damage judgments, are adapted to curb excessive litigation, American companies will face an ongoing competitive disadvantage.

Conclusion

Product liability works differently than most other personal injury cases. The law is laid so that in most cases, both in Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America; manufacturers are liable for injuries caused by their product - known as "strict liability." This is standard as a means of protecting the consumer. It is wisely suggested or furthermore, extremely crucial that all businesses that have anything to do with product creation, refurbishing, distribution, packaging, fulfillment, or retailing have product liability insurance in place. One legal claim; even in Trinidad, where frivolous law suits are not nearly as prevalent as the United States, could realistically put a business under such financial strain that maintaining cash flow, paying employees, or even staying in business, could easily and eventually prove impossible.