Every day, hundreds of consumer products — such as tools, appliances, prescription drugs, toys, motor vehicles, to name just a few — are purchased with the belief that the product will make our lives easier and more pleasurable. The consumer trusts that the product is designed and manufactured properly, is free of material defects at the time of purchase, and is safe to use. The unfortunate reality is that often times the consumer is WRONG! The product fails because it contains design or manufacturing defects which render the product dangerous to the consumer, causing death or serious injuries that can be permanent and life changing.
For almost 40 years, Attorneys Fredrick E. Charles and Dennis G. Charles of Charles Law Offices have successfully represented clients in civil litigation who have suffered wrongful death, serious personal injuries or property damage, including harm caused by defective products. We have successfully represented our clients in personal injury litigation against some of the world’s largest corporations including, without limitation:
If you, or a loved one, have been injured by a defective product, trust the experienced trial attorneys at Charles Law Offices to help. We’ll review your case and guide you on the path to receiving full money damages for your loss. Call us today at 1-610-437-7064 or simply complete the form located to the right.
The law permits you, as an injured person, to allege multiple theories of liability in a products liability case. Alleging multiple theories of liability increases your chances of at least one claim surviving if the other claims are rejected by the court. Typically, the products liability litigation begins with a claim of strict liability, but also can include any combination of theories of negligence, breach of warranty, fraud or misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, or violations of statute, such as the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices & Consumer Protection Law.
The primary advantage of alleging a “strict liability” claim in a products liability case is that the injured party does NOT have to prove negligence on the part of the manufacturer but, rather, that the product contained a “defect” (i.e., was “unsafe for its intended use”) when it was sold by the manufacturer. There are three types of defective conditions leading to a manufacturer’s strict liability in a products liability case: (1) a manufacturing defect; (2) a design defect; and (3) a failure to warn defect. In order to win a strict liability claim, the injured party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (a) the product was defective; (b) the defect existed when it left the manufacturer’s control; and (c) the defect caused the injury. In Pennsylvania, strict products liability claims are governed by Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, and “applies to any person engaged in the business of selling products for use and consumption.” Thus, strict liability includes, at a minimum, product manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors, and the seller need not be engaged solely in the business of selling the product at issue to be subject to strict liability.
The primary advantage of alleging a “negligence” claim in a products liability case is that the injured party is NOT required to prove the existence of a defect. Instead, the injured party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the manufacturer owed a duty to the injured party; (2) the manufacturer breached that duty; and (3) the breach was the “proximate cause” of the injuries. The injured plaintiff’s negligence claim may be based upon the manufacturer’s breach of duty with regard to various activities, including the design, manufacture, engineering, inspection, or labeling of the product.
One of the primary advantages of the injured party bringing a breach of warranty claim in a products liability case is that the statute of limitations for breach of warranty actions — even those for personal injury — is 4 years. Therefore, a claim that is time-barred under the 2 year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury claims may still remain viable under the breach of warranty statute of limitations. There are three types of warranties: (1) express warranty; (2) implied warranty of merchantability; and (3) implied warranty of fitness. Express warranties do not require any specific legal jargon or “magic words,” and can be created by product advertising, labeling, owners’ manuals, the representations of salesmen, and various other ways. An implied warranty of merchantability permits the injured plaintiff to sue anyone in the distributive chain of the product, and requires that the merchantable goods (1) pass without objection in the trade under the contract description; (2) in the case of fungible goods, are of fair average quality within the description; (3) are fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used; (4) run, within the variations permitted by the agreement, of even kind, quality and quantity within each unit and among all units involved; (5) are adequately contained, packaged, and labeled as the agreement may require; and (6) conform to the promises or affirmations of fact made on the container or label if any. An implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose occurs when the seller at the time of contracting has reason to know: (1) any particular purpose for which goods are required; and (2) that the buyer is relying on the skill or judgment of the seller to select or furnish suitable goods. Pursuant to 13 Pa.C.S.A. §2318, both express and implied warranties extend to any natural person who is in the family or household of the buyer or who is a guest in the buyer’s home, if it is reasonable to expect that that person may use, consume, or be affected by the product.
If a seller intentionally conceals a material fact in an effort to deceive the buyer, it may give rise to a viable cause of action for fraud. In order to prevail on a claim of intentional fraud or misrepresentation, the complainant must establish six elements by clear and convincing evidence: (1) a representation; (2) which is material to the transaction at hand; (3) made falsely, with knowledge of its falsity or recklessness as to whether it is true or false; (4) with intent of misleading another into relying on it; (5) justifiable reliance on the misrepresentation; and (6) the resulting injury was proximately caused by the reliance. A cause of action also may exist under certain circumstances for negligent misrepresentation of a material fact which results in harm to the party acting in justifiable reliance on the misrepresentation. The injured plaintiff, in order to prevail on the claim of negligent misrepresentation of a material fact, must prove: (1) misrepresentation of a material fact; (2) made under circumstances in which the misrepresenter ought to have known its falsity; (3) with intent to induce another to act on it; and (4) which results in injury to the party acting in justifiable reliance on the misrepresentation. Restatement (Second) Torts §552.
In order to prove a products liability case, expert testimony is typically needed. Under Rule 702 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence, an “expert” includes anyone who, by virtue of knowledge, skill, experience, training or education, possesses “scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge beyond that possessed by a layperson” that will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. The attorneys at Charles Law Offices use some of the nation’s finest experts in the fields of science and engineering, accident reconstruction, medicine, physics, bio-mechanics, pharmacology, toxicology, psychiatry, psychology, and other forensic disciplines in successfully representing injured plaintiffs in personal injury and products liability litigation.
Evidence of “other similar accidents” involving the defective product are admissible in a strict product liability case in order to prove the product’s defectiveness.
Evidence of “no prior accidents” may be offered by a party (typically the defendant) if that party can prove, as a foundational requirement, that it would have known about the prior, substantially similar accident — such as showing that it maintains a reliable product problem log for monitoring accidents involving its product.
Evidence of “compliance or noncompliance with industry standards, practices, or regulations” is usually NOT admissible to prove the product’s defectiveness in strict liability cases because such evidence improperly introduces negligence principles into the strict liability case.
Evidence of “subsequent remedial measures” made by the defendant — i.e, remedial measures, such as design changes, taken by the product manufacturer after the product causes injury — is NOT admissible in products liability cases, with certain exceptions, under Rule 407 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence and Rule 407 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Circumstantial evidence that the product “malfunctioned” may be relied upon by the injured party to successfully prove a strict products liability claim when evidence of the precise nature of the product’s defectiveness no longer exists, such as when the product has been destroyed or is otherwise unavailable.
Strict liability cannot be applied to “unavoidably unsafe” products, including prescription drugs and medical devices, when the manufacturer has provided adequate warnings of the product’s potential risks.
Pennsylvania follows the “learned intermediary doctrine” in failure-to-warn cases involving prescription drugs, requiring the manufacturer of a prescription drug known to be dangerous for its intended use to warn the physician, rather than the patient-consumer, about the drug’s risks or potential side effects.
In automotive cases, the concept of “crashworthiness” — also known as “enhanced injury” or “second collision” — requires the injured party to prove that his injuries were aggravated because of a manufacturing or design defect over and above that which would have been otherwise suffered in the accident absent the defect — for example, suffering enhanced injuries in an automobile accident because a seat belt unlatched, or the car’s backrest collapsed, during a collision.
In products liability cases involving the inhalation of asbestos, the Pennsylvania courts apply the “regularity, frequency and proximity” test and require the injured party to prove that he or she inhaled asbestos fibers shed by the specific manufacturer’s product. In other words, the injured party must prove more than the mere presence of asbestos in the workplace, and must present evidence of “the frequency of the use of the product and regularity of [his or her] employment in proximity thereto.” Linster v. Allied Signal, Inc., 21 A.3d 220, 223 (Pa.Super. 2009)
In general, a consumer injured by a defective product has no recourse against a dissolved corporation that manufactured the product, and a successor corporation does not acquire the liabilities of the transferor corporation merely because of its succession to the transferor’s assets. However, several exceptions to this rule exist, including the “product line” exception, which imposes liability on a purchasing corporation that utilizes the same manufacturing operation of the transferor’s product line in basically an unaltered manner. The successor may be held strictly liable for injuries resulting from defects in the product line, even if previously manufactured and distributed by the transferor.
In products liability cases, affirmative defenses to both strict liability and negligence actions include, without limitation, that: (1) the injured party assumed the risk of injury; (2) the injured party misused the product; (3) the injured party engaged in highly reckless conduct and would have been injured despite any curing of a defect; (4) the injured party unforeseeably modified or altered the product; (5) the danger associated with the product is open and obvious; (6) the product is safe for use when its warnings are followed; (7) the manufacturer disclaimed implied warranties of merchantability and fitness.
Products liability litigation can involve any defective product that causes death, personal injury or property damage. Examples include, without limitation:
“Spoliation” is defined as the failure to preserve property for another’s use as evidence in pending or future litigation. It has long been the rule that spoliators should not be permitted to benefit from their wrongdoing. In a products liability case, the injured party should take all reasonable measures and precautions to preserve the defective product in its existing condition for future examination by both parties’ expert witnesses, and avoid any spoliation of the evidence. The intentional spoliation of evidence by an injured party could result in summary judgment being awarded in favor of the defendant and dismissal of the injured plaintiff’s case. Relevant factors for deciding the proper penalty for the spoliation of evidence in a design defect case are (1) the degree of fault of the party who altered or destroyed the evidence; (2) the degree of prejudice suffered by the opposing party; and (3) the availability of a lesser sanction that will protect the opposing party’s rights and deter future similar conduct.
With nearly 40 years of trial experience and success, Attorneys Fredrick E. Charles and Dennis G. Charles are second to none when it comes to guarding your legal rights and winning the money damages you deserve. Our record of big trial victories, large verdicts, and out-of-court settlements speaks for itself. We know how to stand up to large corporations and manufacturers to get the compensation you are legally entitled to for your defective product injuries.
Contact us for a free legal consultation at 1-610-437-7064 or simply fill out the form appearing in the top right corner of this page. We’re here 24/7 to get you the legal help you require.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with a lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the attorneys at Charles Law Offices.
The Charles Brothers’ devotion to the law is derived from a family history in the legal system and of service to others. Their father, Charles “Chink” Charles (depicted in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph) held a 35 year career in law enforcement, and was selected to serve as the personal bodyguard for former United States Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson during their campaign visits to Allentown.