The purpose of this article is to give the consumer a general background of consumer law and products liability law. Disclaimer: In all cases, to determine if you have a viable claim, it is necessary to consult with experienced attorneys are lawyers in your local jurisdiction. Most attorneys take these type of cases on Contingency fee basis which means, the client does not pay until an award or settlement is achieved. Products Liability cases are considered tort cases which are generally handled by personal injury attorneys, otherwise also known as PI Attorneys or PI Lawyers.
We live in a world driven by consumerism. Every day, our lives and the decisions we make are driven (quite literally) by the products in which we surround ourselves. But what happens when those products cause you or your loved ones pain, injury, or even worse, loss of life? In Florida, the claim of products liability is a civil action which may be based upon a number of theories, including: Negligence; Breach of Warranty; and Strict Liability. A claim for products liability focuses on a party?s liability for damages caused by the manufacture, construction, design, formulation, installation, preparation, or assembly of a product.
In a Florida products liability case based on the theory of negligence, the ordinary principles of negligence apply where a negligently manufactured product causes personal injury. Plaintiffs must establish 1) a Duty existed between the Defendant and the Plaintiff, and 2) Defendants Breached that duty, resulting in the 3) Actual/Legal Cause and 4) Proximate Cause of 5) the Plaintiff’s Damages. Although it is no longer the case in Florida, Plaintiff’s would often have a difficult time bringing a products liability claim based on negligence due to the essential element of Privity. (A direct contractual relationship between the parties exists.) Today, Florida Courts only require that an injured party show that the Defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.
Warranty in Florida
A Florida product liability claim alleging a breach of warranty is rooted in the law of contracts. An injured party may bring a claim under two theories; Breach of an Express Warranty or, Breach of an Implied Warranty. Where a claimant brings suit for a breach of an express warranty, they must establish that the product does not live up to a representation which the seller had made to the buyer when they bought the item and the buyer relied on what the seller had told them when they bought and used the product. An express warranty may arise in two different situations: 1) where the goods are advertised to have certain qualities or characteristics and, 2) where there is labeling which make statements about the product. An example of a breach of an express warranty would be where the seller advertises a vacuum which ‘never loses its suction’; however, within 3 months the buyers vacuum will not pick up any dirt because the vacuum has lost all suction.
There are two different types of Implied Warranties: Warranty of Merchantability and Fitness for a Particular Purpose. Florida’s version of the UCC states “a warranty that the goods shall be merchantable is implied in a contract for their sale if the seller is a merchant with respect to goods of that kind.” Simply put, if you buy a car from a car dealer, it is implied that the car is fit to drive; its ordinary purpose. It is important to note that this will only cover goods purchased from a merchant who deals in goods of that kind. In the car example, a car dealer is clearly a merchant to regularly deals with goods of that kind. Secondly, there is the implied warranty that a good is fit for a particular purpose. In this situation, the seller must knew that the buyer wants a good for a particular purpose, not simply the customary purpose, and the buyer relies on the sellers judgment when they recommended a particular product. For example, a young athlete goes into a pro shop and tells the seller that he is looking to get outfitted to start playing ice hockey. None-the-wiser, and relying on the seller’s advice, the buyer walks out of the store with a brand new pair of white figure skates. If the buyer were to be injured because the figure skater lacked the proper support or protection from a hockey puck, the buyer may have a claim against the seller for a breach of an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.
Strict Liability in Florida
As opposed to a claim brought under the theory of negligence, claims for strict liability hold the manufacturer/retailer liable for injuries caused by defective products which they placed into the stream of commerce, even where the Defendant exercised the utmost of care. A plaintiff must establish their claim by showing one of three defects: 1) a manufacturing defect; 2) a design defect; or 3) a warning defect.
A Manufacturing Defect refers to defects which are not common among all of the products which the manufacturer produces, but rather is specific to the product which caused Plaintiffs injuries. For example, Big Car Manufacturer produces 300 identical cars per day, 5 days a week. The cars are designed identically and are typically very safe cars to drive. Plaintiff buys a car from a dealer but while driving home Plaintiff’s brakes fail and they are involved in an accident. The investigation uncovered that a piece of metal was not properly stamped during the manufacturing stages which caused the break lines to rub against metal and wear. This defect is unique to Plaintiff’s car, thus making it a manufacturing defect.
Compare the manufacturing defects above with a Design Defect. A Design Defect is similar among all of the products which the manufacturer placed into the market. That is, all of manufacturer’s products have a defective and unreasonably dangerous feature. For example, Big Car Manufacturer produces a line of compact cars which were designed without reinforcement between the rear bumper and the fuel tank. This design was unreasonably dangerous and lead to the car catching on fire after minor rear-end accidents. This defect was common among all of the compact cars, thus making it a design defect.
Lastly, Plaintiff may show a Failure-To-Warn. In a failure to warn claim, the plaintiff must show that the manufacturer neglected to provide an adequate warning of the dangers of using the product which may not be readily apparent to the user.
The law is complex and this article is intended to give you only general guidance. It is critical that you consult with experienced attorneys in your jurisdiction in order to best serve your legal interests. Arcadier, Biggie & Wood, PLLC has experienced attorneys ready to review your case. We are located in Melbourne, Florida in Brevard County, but we take cases throughout the State of Florida and many other States such as New York, New Jersey, and California.