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Product Liability Claims: How Manufacturers Can Protect Themselves

As a manufacturer, what can you do to protect your company against product liability claims? Ensuring that proper processes are in place and identifying red flags can help protect your company. There are a number of ways consumers can claim product liability. The following examples break down some of the primary areas of concern for manufacturers today, and how you can limit your risk.

Injury from unintended use
Your company produces a product that is intended for certain uses. A consumer purchased your product, but used it in a way that you did not intend, and was injured. How can you protect your company against this type of claim?

Indiana law requires that the product be properly packaged or labeled to give reasonable warnings of dangers about the product and/or to give reasonably complete instructions on proper use of the product. In Indiana, a company can defend this type of claim if the injury was caused by misuse by the consumer. Manufacturers can protect themselves against this type of claim by developing a process to regularly monitor and update product labels and instructions for the intended use by the consumer.

Component part liability
Your company produces component parts for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The OEM's product injures someone. How can your company avoid being part of this claim?

Manufacturers can protect themselves against this type of claim by developing a process to record the specifications of each product before shipping to an OEM. This process allows the manufacturer to easily reference the state of the product when it was delivered to the OEM. Your company can limit or avoid exposure to this claim if the injury was caused by a modification or alteration to the product made after it was delivered to the initial customer.

Enhanced injuries
A consumer is injured by a product that you did not manufacture. The consumer then suffers an additional, or enhanced, injury by a product that you did manufacture. How can you protect your company against this type of claim?

A manufacturer may not be held jointly and severally liable for damages resulting from the fault of another defendant or the claimant. In the case of enhanced injuries, or secondary injuries, the claimant may bear some of the responsibility for the injury. A recent Indiana case addresses this very issue. If the consumer/claimant is more than 50 percent at fault for the subject accident, he or she cannot recover from a manufacturer. Manufacturers can help protect themselves by recognizing enhanced injury claims as a red flag, and alerting counsel as quickly as possible.

State and federal standards
You manufacture a product according to standards set by state and federal law. A consumer purchases your product and is injured while using it. How can you protect your company against this type of claim?

There is a presumption in Indiana that the product that caused physical harm is not defective if it conforms with state and federal safety standards at the time it was designed or manufactured. Manufacturers can protect themselves by establishing a process to regularly review safety standards and specifications to ensure they are following generally recognized state-of-the-art procedures. Manufacturers can further protect themselves by documenting the use of state-of-the-art safety standards.

Designing a safe product
Your company has designed and manufactured a product. That product was sold to a consumer, who injured himself by using it. How can you protect your company from this claim?

Unlike claims for "manufacturing defects," which may be subject to strict liability, claims for "design defects" have a higher burden of proof for the consumer. Indiana law requires that a plaintiff claiming "design defects" establish that the manufacturer failed to exercise reasonable care in designing the product. Manufacturers can protect themselves against this type of claim by establishing engineering protocols to ensure products are properly designed. This process should document the steps taken by the manufacturer.

If you have questions or issues involving products liability claims or their prevention, please contact Phil L. Isenbarger.

  • Partner

    Phil is a partner with Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP in Indianapolis, with over 35 years of litigation and trial experience. He has previously chaired the firm’s Litigation Practice Group and has been lead counsel for jury trials ...



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