When it comes to product safety, consumers depend on manufacturers to produce items that have been rigorously developed and tested to the highest standards of quality and safety. But what happens when we purchase faulty, defective or unsafe products? What are consumers’ rights?
The term “reasonable care” or “standard of care” often comes up in unsafe products litigation, and for good reason: the idea of reasonable care is at the heart of products liability. The law expects that both manufacturers and consumers will act with reasonable care. Basically, this tenet means that a reasonable manufacturer would do everything in its power to develop a safe and marketable product, while a reasonable consumer would take heed of product warnings and use a product in its intended manner. For example, it is reasonable for a manufacturer to design automobiles to be crashworthy, or able to sustain an automobile accident with minimal impact and injury to passengers. At the same time, it is reasonable for a customer to drive an automobile in a rational and safe manner. The manufacturer cannot be held liable for a driver’s erratic decision to drive her car into a ditch regardless of the ultimate crashworthiness of the car.
Reasonable care extends to the actions of consumers when using a product. For example, if a manufacturer has placed a warning label on a toxic chemical used for house cleaning – within its reasonable standard of care – and a consumer chooses to disregard this warning label and drink the cleanser, the manufacturer will not assume liability for the consumer’s injuries.
Under the standard of reasonable care, manufacturers are expected to adequately warn consumers about the potential dangers of their products. However, manufacturers cannot be held liable for unavoidable dangers of a product. For example, manufacturers often place potentially unsafe products – such as heavy machinery or drugs – on the market. They cannot be held liable for injury sustained by consumers, who are expected, by the doctrine of reasonable care, to understand that the use of heavy machinery or prescription drugs carries with it an inherent and unavoidable risk.
Caveat Emptor No More?
The law used to favor businesses with a strict caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) interpretation of products liability law. However, the courts are beginning to recognize more and more responsibility on the part of businesses and manufacturers to inform their customers about the inherent risks of their products and to design their products with safety in mind. Businesses are liable for products that pose a danger to consumers. This is a good tool for consumer protection – strict liability laws hold manufacturers accountable for educating the buyer and creating safe products for consumers and gives consumers redress when they have suffered injury from an unsafe product. If you have been harmed by an unsafe product, consider contacting an attorney experienced in the field of products liability law. A lawyer with experience in unsafe products litigation can help assess whether you have a valid claim and lead you through the legal process.