All manufacturers have a responsibility to provide reasonably safe products to the public. In California, a manufacturer, distributor, and/or a retailer may be strictly liable for injuries caused by a dangerous and defective product. That being said, it would be a mistake to assume that strict liability means automatic liability.
Corporations can defend product liability claims on a number of different grounds, including raising certain affirmative defenses. In this article, our San Jose defective product lawyers provide an overview of two of the most common affirmative defenses in California product liability claims: Misuse and Modification.
Background: An Affirmative Defense May Negate Criminal or Civil Liability
A plaintiff has the burden of proving that a defendant is liable for an injury. An affirmative defense by a defendant manufacturer can potentially negate any responsibility for a defective product.
Affirmative Defense #1: Plaintiff Misuse of the Product
California law holds that a corporation may avoid or reduce liability in a defective product lawsuit if the accident/injuries in question were caused by the plaintiff’s misuse of the product.
An important distinction should be kept in mind to differentiate “user error” from “use error” inherent in a given design that precipitates injuries. It is easy to blame a user for a mistake or misuse when using a product. The more important question is whether the design of the product should have precluded a consumer from inadvertently injuring themselves in a foreseeable and expected manner. That is a design failure that must be fully explored with design experts.
To be clear, a plaintiff using a product in a manner inconsistent with the instructions is not necessarily sufficient to raise this affirmative defense. To successful mitigate liability on the grounds of misuse, a defendant must establish the following three things:
- The plaintiff actually misused the product;
- The misused contributed or caused injury; and
- The misuse of the product was not reasonable and was not reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer.
Affirmative Defense #2: Plaintiff Modification of the Product
California law also holds that a corporation may mitigate liability in a defective product claim if an injury occurred as a consequence of a modification of the product.
Similar to misuse, providing modification made by the plaintiff is not, by itself, sufficient for a defendant to raise this affirmative defense. A corporation that relies on this affirmative defense must establish that:
- The product was actually modified;
- The modification was a substantial factor in causing injury; and
- The modification was neither reasonable, nor reasonably foreseeable.
Comparative Negligence May Be an Issue in a California Product Liability Case
California is a comparative fault jurisdiction. In some cases, a jury may determine that both a defendant (corporation) and a plaintiff (consumer) each bear some liability for an injury. In these cases, liability may be divided proportionally.
For example, an injured victim deemed 20 percent responsible for a defective product injury on the basis of product misuse can only collect 80 percent of their actual damages.
Contact Our San Jose, CA Product Liability Attorney for Immediate Assistance
Alexander Law Group, LLP is an established and highly respected personal injury law firm with substantial experience in collecting maximum for injuries caused by defective products, including defective medical devices, such as an award-winning victory in a $79,000,000 jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson for damages caused by a defective surgical stapler, major recoveries against car manufacturers for defective fuel systems and representing hundreds poisoned by toxic chemicals manufactured by the chemical industry. Our attorneys are available to answer questions and share our knowledge of the law and the results of our research and experience. Our goal as personal injury lawyers is to make a difference for our clients. Every day we deal with a range of health and safety issues that most people do not encounter until after an injury occurs. We are safety lawyers committed to sharing with our clients, colleagues, and the public information for safe and healthy living. Call 888-777-1776 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to see how we can help you.