Product Misuse Defense in Products Liability Lawsuits
What is strict products liability?
Strict product liability means holding the manufacturer or seller of defective products responsible if the product injures a consumer who buys or uses the product. The courts impose liability for personal injury and property damage caused by products that are defectively designed or manufactured.
What defenses are available in products liability lawsuits?
Various defenses are available to manufacturers or sellers in products liability lawsuits. These defenses include contributory negligence (the consumer's own actions caused the injury), comparative negligence (the consumer's damages are reduced in proportion to the percentage of his or her fault), assumption of risk (the consumer knew about the defect but continued to use the product anyway), and product misuse.
What constitutes product misuse?
To be considered product misuse, some courts hold that the consumer's use has to be one that the manufacturer could not have intended, expected or anticipated. In other words, the use of a product will not bar recovery if the use was reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer. Foreseeability depends upon the intended and actual uses of the product, which are well known to the manufacturer and the general public. For example, while a screwdriver is not intended to be used to open a paint can, a consumer's use of a screwdriver to open a paint can is something that a manufacturer could or should have anticipated. Such use would not be considered misuse. If the consumer were injured while using the screwdriver to open the paint can, the defense of product misuse would not prevent recovery for the injuries.
What is the effect of a product misuse defense?
Some courts have held that the consumer's misuse or improper use of a product frees the manufacturer or seller of any liability. For example, the misuse of a product is a complete defense in Indiana, which bars a products liability claim. Other courts have held that the consumer's misuse or improper use of a product reduces the amount of damages the consumer can recover.
Who has the burden of proving the product was misused?
In some states, the courts have held that product misuse is an affirmative defense for which the manufacturer or seller has the burden of proof. Other courts hold that the product misuse defense is not an affirmative defense, which means the manufacturer or seller does not have the burden of proving misuse. Instead, the consumer bears the burden of disproving product misuse.
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