Types of Product Liability Claims

Learn the three types of product liability claims: manufacturer mistake, dangerous product design, and failure to provide adequate warnings and instructions.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

If you've been hurt by a product you used, you might have a product liability claim. These claims typically fall into three categories: (1) defective manufacture; (2) defective design; and (3) failure to warn or instruct.

We'll explain each category to help you better understand the kind of product liability claim you might have.

(Find out more about proving the elements of a product liability claim.)

Defectively Manufactured Products

As the name suggests, a defectively manufactured product is flawed because of some error in making it. Maybe a machine used to put the product together wasn't working correctly for a day or two. As a result, some of the products that came off the assembly line suffered from a manufacturing defect. Those products are dangerous when put to an ordinary, expected use.

Examples of manufacturing defects include:

  • a swing set with a cracked chain
  • a batch of cough syrup containing a poisonous substance, or
  • a moped missing its brake pads.

To have a manufacturing defect case, your injury must have been caused by the manufacturing defect.

Defectively Designed Products

In a design defect case, a product's faulty design makes it dangerous or defective. A defective design claim alleges that because of some flaw in the way a product was designed, the entire line of products is inherently dangerous. This design problem makes the product unsafe for ordinary use even though it was made according to the manufacturer's specifications.

Examples of design defects include:

  • a car that has a tendency to flip over while turning corners
  • sunglasses that fail to protect the eyes from ultraviolet rays, or
  • an electric blanket that can electrocute the user when turned on high.

In a design defect case, you must show that you were hurt because of the defective design.

Failure to Warn or Instruct

Product liability law requires that users of a product must be:

  • warned about known hazards associated with foreseeable uses of the product, and
  • instructed regarding the proper uses of the product.

Failure-to-warn claims often involve dangers that aren't obvious to the user, or a product that requires the user to take special precautions or be especially diligent when using it.

Failure-to-warn or failure-to-instruct claims would include:

  • an electric tea kettle that's packaged without sufficient warnings about its oddly positioned steam valve
  • a cough syrup that doesn't warn about drug interactions if taken in combination with other common medicines, or
  • a burn-causing cleaning product that's sold without adequate warnings and instructions for safe handling and use.

As with all product liability claims, you bear the burden of showing that your injury was caused by the warning or instruction defect.

Comparing the Three Types of Product Liability Claims

Claims involving pharmaceutical drugs are a good way to illustrate the differences between the three types of product liability claims.

Suppose you're injured because a bottle of cough syrup contained a cleaning solvent that accidentally dripped into the bottle during the manufacturing process. You've got a potential manufacturing defect case.

Now, assume that the same brand of cough syrup—but without the cleaning solvent—caused you to suffer a heart attack because of its normal ingredients. That's a possible design defect claim.

Finally, say the cough syrup was made correctly and is generally safe for use. You became ill because you took the cough syrup with aspirin. The label failed to warn that this combination is dangerous. You'll want to look into a failure to warn claim.

(Learn more about product liability legal theories and damages in your product liability case.)

Get Help With Your Product Liability Claim

As a rule, product liability claims are factually and technically complex and can be difficult to prove. Product designers, manufacturers, and sellers often invest huge sums to bring products to market. There's a lot at stake when a product liability claim gets filed.

There's just no such thing as a simple product liability case. The other side will be represented by an army of lawyers and experts. You need experienced legal counsel on your side, too. Without it, you don't stand much chance of success.

Here's how you can find a product liability lawyer in your area who's right for your case.

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