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What are the 4 major grounds for product liability?

In our March 27 post, ’60 Minutes’ questions safety of laminate flooring; CPSC responds, we mentioned that homeowners had filed multiple class action lawsuits against the manufacturers of defective drywall. Lumber Liquidators could find itself in equally hot water, if consumers can successfully link health problems to the toxins in the laminate flooring — at least, the toxins “60 Minutes” alleged were in the laminate flooring.

The case wouldn’t stop there, of course: Consumers would have to prove that the manufacturer, the distributor or the merchant was somehow responsible for the dangerous flooring making it to market and into consumers’ homes.

There are four ways consumers could do that — four theories of liability — and a product liability claim must fall under at least one of them to survive. If a plaintiff cannot answer “yes” to one of the following questions and then back up that answer with solid evidence, the lawsuit won’t even make it out of the gate. None of these is easier than another — they all require a great deal of research and technical savvy on top of solid legal skills.

First, was there intentional or unintentional negligence on the part of product manufacturers, distributors or sellers? Consumers have the right to assume that a reasonable amount of care is taken during all stages of product development and distribution. Did the laminate flooring manufacturer ignore warnings that the product could be toxic?

Second, was there a breach of warranty? Every product comes with three different types of warranty: an express warranty, the implied warranty of merchantability and the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. We could devote an entire post to each, but we’ll offer two representative questions for now: Are the ingredients of that energy bar really “all natural”? Will Pom Wonderful reduce your risk of heart disease?

We’ll go through the last two questions next week.

Source: The Free Dictionary, “Product Liability,” accessed April 17, 2015

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