Boston Product Liability Attorneys
A consumer product can injure anyone. If a product is defective, it can cause severe injury and death. You could be shocked by a faulty toaster in your kitchen or injured by a defective lawnmower blade as you mow your lawn one weekend morning. Unfortunately, even your laptop battery could explode and harm you. If you have been injured by a defective product, our Boston product liability attorneys can help you recover the damages and compensation you deserve. Our lawyers serve clients across Massachusetts and the nation.Product Liability Claims for the Injured
Product liability law exists to protect consumers. However, to file a product liability claim for an injury caused by a defective product, you must have been using the product for its intended purpose. For example, if you were using your hairdryer to dry your clothes, instead of using a clothes dryer, you would not be using the hairdryer for its intended purpose. As a result, if the hairdryer overheats and sparks a fire, you would not have a valid product liability claim. If you knew about a defective product and still used it and were injured, you probably do not have a compelling product liability claim either.Product Liability Laws in Massachusetts
Product liability laws cover anyone who is injured by a consumer product that has been purchased or rented. The laws are designed to encourage companies to act responsibly. If an individual suffers an injury as a result of the product, the injured party may file for damages against the company. The federal government has basic minimum safety regulations in place, but individual states can add additional layers of regulation to protect consumers. Massachusetts, for example, has passed stricter laws that are designed to protect against dangerous products. The state has a system in place that provides compensation to those individuals injured due to a dangerous or defective product. If a defective product has injured you, you may have a personal injury claim.How do I Bring a Products Liability Claim?
As with any injury, seeking medical attention should always be your priority. After you have received medical care for your injuries, you will want to gather evidence from the scene of the injury, the product, and the product labels. Here are six things you should gather together if a product injures you:
- The name and contact information for the manufacturer;
- Pictures of the product including barcode numbers, warnings, and any company names;
- The actual product should be placed in a safe place and bagged to prevent further disturbance;
- The names and contact information for anyone who witnessed the injury using the product;
- Medical reports from when you received treatment after the injury;
- Any written materials that came with the product including manuals, receipts, and warranties.
After you have gathered all of your evidence to the best of your ability, you should seek legal advice. Product liability claims are some of the most complex personal injury claims to navigate. There are several legal theories—or causes of action—that your claim could fall under as well as complicated aspects that require expert opinions. You should always consult an experienced attorney to help you through this process.
Massachusetts has a three-year time limit, known as the statute of limitations, to bring a personal injury lawsuit due to a product defect. If you miss this deadline, then you miss your chance to recover any damages for your injuries.
It is crucial to be prepared and know what you can expect when you meet with an attorney to discuss your case. Some of the most common and essential questions your lawyer may ask include:
- What was the date of your injury?
- When did you find out the name of the manufacturer?
- When did you first find out that the product was defective?
- Did you still use the product even though you knew it was defective?
- Did the product come with any warranties at the time of purchase?
- Was the defect in the product visible or hidden?
- How old were you when using the product and at the time of injury?
- Were you sick while using the product and at the time of the injury?
- Were you temporarily mentally incapacitated while using the product?
- Did anyone else do something that caused the accident or injury?
There are three different legal theories (four if you count a Chapter 93A cause of action) that an attorney can use to file a product liability lawsuit. The theories have been discussed in detail above, but to recap, they are negligence, strict liability, and breach of implied warranty of merchantability. Each legal theory has specific elements that you and your attorney will have to prove to win your case.
Remember, the three key elements to having a products liability claim are that there was a defect, that you were injured, and that your injury was due to the defect in the product. Depending on which legal theory your attorney pursues, you may also have to prove why the product was defective and that the defendant had a duty of care that they owed to you.Damages in Massachusetts Product Liability Claims
In Massachusetts, there are several types of damages that you may be awarded if your lawsuit is successful. They include medical bills and costs, lost wages, future lost earnings, property damage, and any other financial expenses you may have incurred. In addition to monetary damages, you could be awarded damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress. Pain and suffering damages fall under the category of emotional damages and are subjective. When a case goes to trial, a judge or the jury determines the value of emotional damages suffered.
Massachusetts also allows for a special type of damage, known as loss of consortium. When an injured person's relationship with their family members has been substantially altered, they may be able to bring a loss of consortium claim. This claim is separate from all other claims, and you should consult your attorney for the specifics on how to file this claim.
If you have a successful Chapter 93A cause of action, you could receive double or triple damages. These are referred to as punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendants and to set an example to other potential defendants. You could also receive any attorney's fees and costs (this means that the defendant will have to pay your legal fees if they lose the case).
Damages can we awarded to all foreseeable users, not just the buyer of the product.Types of Defective Consumer Products
When you buy a product, you expect that it will serve its intended purpose. Without thinking about it, you probably assume that it will be safe. Unfortunately, sometimes products have a terrible design, sometimes they become compromised during assembly, or sometimes the manufacturer fails to warn you that it is dangerous to use. When this happens, the consequences can be catastrophic—injuries such as minor burns, lacerations, amputations, and even death can result.
While it is not possible to list out every type of consumer product that can cause injury, the categories and items below compromise some of the various products that are featured in products recalls and product liability cases:
- Packaged Products
- Pet Food
- Children’s Toys and Products
- Baby Carriers
- Consumer Products
- Electrical Equipment
- Recreational Equipment
- Household Items
- Power Tools
- Health and Medicine
- Medical Devices
- Medical Implants
- Motor Vehicles and Related Equipment
- Children’s Car Seats
Not all product defects are the same. Some involve mistakes that happen when a product is being designed while others occur during the assembly process. Some product defects are the result of the manufacturers not disclosing the nature of the dangerous product to consumers. Most lawsuits only involve one type of defect, but if a product is defective in more than one way, the number of damages awarded can increase significantly. If you sustain injuries due to a defective consumer item, you may be entitled to compensation from the product manufacturer as well as from whoever sold or rented you the product. If you sue for product liability, you will have to prove that you were using the product the way it was intended. If you injure yourself by improperly using a product that isn't defective, you probably have no case. Below is a brief description of the three types of product defects.Design Defects
A design defect is a defect that exists when a product is not reasonably safe when used for its intended purposes, or where it is reasonably foreseeable that a consumer could use and misuse the product as a result of the product's design.
When determining whether a product has a defective design, the court will look at various factors. Some of the factors that are evaluated include:
- The reasonableness of the design;
- How feasible and available an alternative design would be (a reasonable alternative is understood to be a design which would have reduced the risk of injury but without an unreasonable cost to the manufacturer);
- The cost of and alternative design;
- The likelihood of an injury to the consumer; and
- How severe the damage would be to the consumer.
To prove that there was a design defect, you have to show that the product was faulty at the time it was designed. Due to the highly technical nature of product design, Massachusetts courts usually require expert testimony to determine whether a design defect exists.Manufacturing Defect
Even if a product is designed well, problems can arise during manufacturing—namely during construction and assembly of the product. When a product becomes dangerous because of an error during production, the defect is known as a manufacturing defect. With manufacturing defects, the product's flaw is not intended as part of the design of the item, but instead is the result of a mistake. For example, a kitchen knife set manufactured with plastic handles may have handles that were not appropriately glued or screwed to the metal blade. If this mistake later causes injury to a consumer, a manufacturing defect case may exist.
Manufacturing defects are rare and usually only affect one or very few products that come off of the assembly line. The most common manufacturing defects involve products made with inferior quality materials or poor workmanship.
- Examples of manufacturing defects include:
- Examples of manufacturing defects include:
- Using incorrect hardware (type or size) for product assembly;
- Assembling mismatched parts;
- Improper installation of parts;
- Incorrect wiring; and
- Sloppy or rushed work by a person on the assembly line.
Sometimes products are just dangerous, and consumer needs to know this so that they can take precautions and protect themselves accordingly. When a product has hidden dangers, manufacturers must provide warnings so that consumers do not suffer injuries. Instructions can be used to explain how to use a product safely. Appropriate warning labels can also bring awareness to the dangerousness of a product. When a product lacks adequate warnings, a products liability case for defective warnings may be present.
When a risk of danger is known due to the product's design or use, a marketing warning is required. Some risks or dangers affect only a limited number of users and are foreseeable (e.g., prescription drugs and pregnant women). Other times, the hazards or risks will be due to foreseeable unintended uses of the product. Sometimes, warnings are necessary no matter what because the product is inherently unsafe and may cause harm, but the product is essential and still needs to be on the market.
Marketing defects can include the following:
- Failure to adequately warn of any dangers and risks involved with using the product;
- Failure to adequately provide instructions for the safe use of the product.
However, there are exceptions to these rules. In Mitchell v. Sky Climber, Inc., the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a manufacturer of parts did not have a duty to warn of a possible risk created solely by an act of another where the risk created would not be associated with a foreseeable use or misuse of the manufacturer's product. See Mitchell v. Sky Climbert, Inc., 396 Mass. 629 (1986).Who is Responsible in Product Liability Cases?
In any products liability case, multiple parties may be liable under varying legal theories. The first step in evaluating a product's liability case is to determine what type of defect was responsible for your injuries. Designers/engineers, manufacturers, and retailers of products may all be responsible for putting an unsafe product on the market. All parties that create and distribute merchandise have a duty to provide a safe product. This duty extends to both the purchaser of the product and to anyone who can reasonably be expected to use the product.
For there to be liability against the defendants, you must have been using the product in a way the product was intended to be used. If you were using a product for an unintended use, and you are injured, none of the parties discussed in the following section would be held liable for your actions.The Designers and Engineers
Designers and engineers are the individuals responsible for developing the product. Therefore, they typically are the parties that would know of any potential dangers in the product that could cause harm to consumers.
If a product that had a design defect injures you, you may have a claim against the designers and engineers of the product for negligence. A successful negligence claim is one that proves four key elements:
- The defendant (usually the Designer or Engineer in a design defect case) owed you a legal duty of care. The Design or Engineering firm may owe a duty of care to consumers as well as any foreseeable users of the product.
- That the defendant breached that duty of care. In a design defect case, you have to prove that the design of the product is defective and, therefore, dangerous. You also have to prove that the defendant was responsible for the faulty design and that the defendant knew or should have known that the product design was dangerous. This element will require expert testimony to establish.
- That the product with the defective design injured you; and
- That the defendant’s breach of their duty of care was a direct cause of your injury.
The standard of care for a designer or engineer is an ordinary degree of skill and care that any other reasonably competent designer or engineer of the same discipline would have practiced.
Designers and engineers (if not the same with the manufacturer) can also be held liable under the theory of implied warranty of merchantability, which is discussed in more detail below.The Manufacturer
Products with a manufacturing defect can sometimes cause injuries to users of the item. When that occurs, the manufacturer of the product can be held strictly liable for the damages caused. The injured person would need to prove that the product was defective and that the product defect caused the injuries. Also, the injured person would need to show that they were using the product in a manner that it was intended to be used.
In product liability cases, the injured person must show four things:
- That the defendant owed a duty of care to the person;
- That the defendant breached that duty of care;
- That the individual injured sustained injuries; and
- That the breach of that duty of care caused the injuries.
When a manufacturer is found to be strictly liable for an incident, the requirements for a product liability case change. In Massachusetts manufacturing defect cases, strict liability requires the injured individual to show that:
- You used the product;
- You used the product the way it was intended to be used;
- You were using the product in the way that it was designed to be used; and
- You sustained an injury while using the product as intended.
Strict liability does not apply if you owned a defective product for a while, knew about the defect, but continued using the product and then ended up getting injured by the defective product. Retailers that regularly sell or rent products may also be held strictly liable for defects with the product. However, if you have purchased the product second hand, strict liability is unlikely to apply.
Manufacturers can also be held liable for injuries caused by a defective product under a legal theory known as the breach of implied warranty of merchantability. The implied warranty of merchantability applies in Massachusetts when a manufacturer places a consumer product on the market with a defect, and someone is injured using that product as a result of the defect. Every manufacturer and seller of consumer products is expected to only place goods on the market that are safe, and that meet specific quality standards.
An implied warranty of merchantability is attached to every consumer item sold in Massachusetts. This warranty applies even if the manufacturer tries to limit the warranty by stating so on the product label. The warranty implies that products available to consumers are free from design defects, manufacturing defects, and inaccurate warning labels. Massachusetts protects consumers by assigning a guarantee that any consumer product sold will be safe for its intended use.
To prove a breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, you must show:
- That the defendant manufactured, sold, or rented the product;
- That you were a person the defendant would reasonably expect to use the product;
- That you used the product in an intended manner;
- That the product was defective and therefore dangerous; and
- That the defect was the cause of your injury.
While retailers do not design or manufacture products, an expectation exists that they will educate themselves on the products they sell. It is not unreasonable to expect retailers to be aware of any potential dangers products they sell directly to consumers contain. For this reason, retailers selling dangerous products, who fail to warn consumers of the dangers, can be held liable for any injuries caused by the product to the consumer.
Similar to manufacturers, retailers can be held liable under the theory of the implied warranty of merchantability (as discussed above).
Negligence, strict liability, and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability are the most common legal theories products liability cases brought under. However, there is one additional theory specific to Massachusetts. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 93A addresses unfair and deceptive practices in trade or commerce, that happen in the state. The significance of a Chapter 93A cause of action (the legal theory that an attorney will use to present your claim to the court) is in the damages that are awarded. If you are successful under this legal theory, you could receive double or triple damages plus attorney's fees. These damages can be recovered in addition to the other damages that you could be awarded (i.e., medical bills and costs, lost and future wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium if applicable). Claims brought under Chapter 93A are incredibly complicated and very rare. Having an experienced attorney on your side will help you determine if the law applies to your case.For More Information, Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman
If you have been injured in Massachusetts by a defective or dangerous consumer product, a product liability attorney can explain your rights and legal options. Our attorneys can help you navigate your way through the complex process of a product liability lawsuit. Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential consultation at (617) 367-2900.