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When Is Compensation Available for a Defective Product?

Thousands of Georgians are physically injured each year from defective or dangerous products.  Such products range from kitchen appliances and lawn equipment to automobiles and industrial machinery.  To recover for injuries caused by these products, the injured plaintiff must satisfy certain legal elements, usually requiring the presentation of expert testimony.  Georgia recognizes three general theories of recovery for injuries caused by defective or dangerous products: design defects, manufacturing defects, and warning defects.

A design defect arises when a product is manufactured just as designed, but the design itself is unreasonably dangerous given the utility of the product.  For example, a piece of manufacturing equipment may lack a relatively easy-to-produce safeguard that would prevent users from suffering severed fingers or limbs, thereby rendering the machine’s design defective.  A recent real-world example is the faulty ignition switch installed in thousands of General Motors vehicles, which allowed the ignition to be turned off and the airbag disabled merely from the weight of the keys in the ignition.

In contrast, a manufacturing defect occurs when, due to some flaw or anomaly in the manufacturing process, the product that rolls off of the assembly line falls short of the design standard that was intended.  An example of a manufacturing defect would be a batch of car tires that were made with tainted chemicals, causing the tread on that particular batch to prematurely separate during use.  Although the tire manufacturer had the design right, something went wrong during the manufacturing process.

Finally, even if a product is designed as safely as reasonably possible, and even if the product was made precisely as designed, a manufacturer can still be liable for inadequate warnings or instructions.  Whether a manufacturer has such a duty to warn users of a particular risk depends on the foreseeability of the risk in question and the foreseeability of the user’s knowledge of the danger.  Drug manufacturers thus have a duty to warn users of the risks of foreseeable side effects.

The above summary is extremely generalized.  Each theory of recovery in products liability has particular nuances and specific defenses that must be overcome.  Manufacturers typically assert defenses such as comparative negligence by the plaintiff, assumption of risk, open and obvious dangers, and product alteration or misuse.  Retaining an attorney experienced in products liability law is critical to overcoming these obstacles and recovering just compensation.

Authored by Stacey A. Carroll, Esq.