Although the range of injury-causing products is extensive, defective product liability lawsuits can generally be grouped into three categories. The first category involves products that have been defectively manufactured in some way, meaning that a mistake was made either at the factory or at some point between the factory and wherever the product was purchased, resulting in a faulty product.
The second category of claims involves products that have been defectively designed, meaning that the product is dangerous in some way even though it was correctly manufactured. These cases do not involve a single faulty product, but rather an entire line of products that are claimed to be unreasonably dangerous.
The third category of claims involves a failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions regarding the proper use of the injury-causing product. These claims are sometimes referred to as "defective marketing" claims. To learn more, read Nolo's article Types of Defective Product Liability Claims.
As a general principle in defective product cases, you want to include any and all parties involved in the chain of distribution (the path that the product takes from manufacture to distribution to customers) of the injury-causing product.
The chain of distribution is typically made up of the manufacturer, the retailer, and any number of suppliers, wholesalers, and distributors in between. Depending on your case, the defendants may also include consultants, contractors, quality-control engineers, designers, and anyone else with some sort of connection to the defect in the injury causing product. To learn more, read Nolo's article Defective Product Liability Claims: Who to Sue?
The evidence you will need to present in court in order to win your lawsuit will depend on the particular circumstances of your case. In defective product liability lawsuits, however, claims generally consist of four basic elements.
First, you must prove that you have been injured or suffered some other kind of damage (almost injured doesn't count). Second, you must prove that the product involved in your case was somehow defective or lacked proper warnings or instructions. Third, you must prove that the defect (or lack of proper warnings or instructions) was the specific cause of your injuries or damages. Finally, you must prove that, when you were injured, you were using the injury-causing product more or less in the manner in which it was intended to be used. To learn more, read Nolo's article Proving a Defective Product Liability Claim.
You must file a defective product liability lawsuit within a certain amount of time. The legal term for this time limit is the "statute of limitations." Every state has a statute of limitations that applies specifically to defective product liability claims, but the actual amount of time you have to file your lawsuit varies from one state to the next. If you fail to file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, the judge will almost certainly throw out your case, no matter how good your claim may be.
The moment when the time limit begins to run also depends on the law of your state. In some states, the clocks starts ticking on the date of the injury, but many states don't start the clock running until the injury is discovered "or should have been discovered." This can make all the difference in cases in which you don't realize you've been injured until months or even years later (such as cases involving drugs, for example). To learn more, read Nolo's article Time Limits for Filing a Defective Product Liability Claim.
One of the most important aspects of evaluating a products liability claim is determining what types and amounts of damages you have suffered. The term "damages" is legalese for a sum of money paid to the plaintiff in a lawsuit either to compensate for some form of injury or loss or to punish the defendant for wrongdoing.
All damages fall into two basic categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are intended to restore you to the condition you were in before the injury occurred by attaching a dollar value to each of the bad things that happened to you as a result of the injury. These damages include "economic" losses such as medical expenses, lost wages or profits, and any damage to your property. They also include certain "non-economic" losses, such as pain and suffering.
In many cases, compensatory damages are the only form of damages awarded. If a judge or jury finds that the defendant has acted particularly badly, however, you may also be entitled to punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish a defendant for its conduct and to deter others from engaging in similar conduct. Punitive damages are roughly analogous to a fine and are calculated based on the nature of the defendant's misconduct in relation to its wealth (the idea is to make it hurt in proportion to the misconduct). (To learn more, read Nolo's article Damages in Defective Products Cases.)
Many product liability claims arise out of the use of pharmaceutical drugs with dangerous side effects. Often, patients claim that those side effects were unreasonably dangerous or that the manufacturer, pharmacy, or doctor did not warn the patient of those side effects. But keep in mind that many drugs are known to carry serious risks. If your doctor properly advises you of those risks and you decide the risks are worth taking, you won't have a legal claim even if you suffer serious side effects.
Many pharmaceutical drugs have been the subject of class action lawsuits -- where numerous plaintiffs band together and file one lawsuit. To learn more about drug-related products liability claims and class action lawsuits, read Nolo's article Product Liability Claims Involving Pharmaceutical Drugs.
To find out how to make the best case for yourself and win your personal injury claim, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).
If you are injured or suffer other damages because of a product you used, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover for your injuries and damages. This kind of lawsuit is called a defective product liability claim.