The Connecticut product liability statute governs products liability claims in Connecticut. There are two main ways of classifying products liability claims: based on the nature of the product defect, and based on the theory of liability. Three types of defects can be alleged: a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or a warning defect. Each of these types of claims can be pursued under a strict liability, negligence, or breach of warranty theory of liability.
Defective products can cause injury in a myriad of different ways. The following are five hypothetical examples:
Products liability law can impose personal injury liability on the manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer of a product – basically, anyone in the product’s chain of distribution. Depending on the theory of liability used, it can protect not only purchasers of a product, but also users and even bystanders who are injured by a product defect. A products liability claim can also compensate for property damage.
As an example, suppose that a car accident occurred due to a defectively manufactured brake drum. The defendant could, of course, be the brake drum manufacturer. It could also be a distributor or retailer of the product. The plaintiff (the person claiming compensation) could be the owner of the car, a passenger, the driver of the other car, a passenger in the other car, or even a pedestrian – as long as he was injured in the accident.
To win a product liability claim, you must prove the following:
The defendant must be a merchant – he cannot be, for example, a private party who sold you the product at a garage sale.
The following is a description of the three categories of product defects you may claim under Connecticut products liability law:
A design defect is a defect in the product itself, which is present even when it is manufactured exactly according to specifications. An example might be an automobile cruise control system that is designed to shut off only when a button is pressed on the steering wheel, not when the brakes are tapped.
Defendants tend to fight hard against design defect claims, because losing the case might mean that they have to take an entire line of products off the market for redesign. Nevertheless, in some ways, it is easier to prove a design defect claim than a manufacturing claim. For example, it is easier to maintain a design defect claim than a manufacturing defect claim if the product was destroyed in the accident.
A manufacturing defect occurs when the product is not manufactured according to its design specifications. The defect might affect only the product that caused the injury, or it might affect an entire batch of products. An example of a manufacturing defect might be a case in which the glue that holds a tire together is contaminated with sawdust, thereby causing a blowout that, in turn, causes a traffic accident.
A warning defect is not a defect in the product itself but in the labeling that accompanies a product. A product might be well-designed, it may have been manufactured according to specifications, and it may perform safely under most conditions. Nevertheless, the use of the product might involve a danger that, although reasonable if known about and taken into consideration, is unreasonable otherwise.
A manufacturer is not expected to warn of every risk, but only risks that are known of or that the manufacturer could have discovered with due diligence. Once the risk is known, the manufacturer must clearly warn of the risk, and the notification must be conspicuous enough to attract the attention of the consumer. A manufacturer is even expected to warn against the consequences of predictable misuse of the product.
A strict liability products liability claim does not require you to prove fault on the part of the defendant. In a negligence claim, however, you are required to prove fault. So why would you ever bother to assert a negligence claim in a products liability case if it simply adds to the elements that you must prove to win the case?
Various fact patterns surface from time to time in which it is advantageous to file a negligence claim. If you want to seek punitive damages, for example, you must prove that the harm you suffered was the result of the defendant’s reckless disregard for your safety. Punitive damages are capped by law, but they can amount to as much as two-thirds of your total award.
A breach of warranty claim is contractual. The essence of the claim is that the defendant made an express or implied guarantee concerning the product, but the product did not perform according to the warranty and you were thereby injured. Such a claim might make sense if the deficiency in the product was the result of a guarantee that the product is fit for a particular purpose, for example, when, in fact, using it for that purpose is unreasonably dangerous.
The following is a list of partial and complete defenses to product liability claims. A partial defense can reduce, but not eliminate, liability, while a complete defense can reduce the defendant’s liability to zero. Some of these defenses are affirmative defenses that can be asserted by a defendant, while others are simply consequences of the victim’s failure to fully prove his claim.
In all likelihood, if you have a credible claim, the defendant is probably going to want to settle with you out of court (well over 90 percent of products liability claims are resolved this way). Nevertheless, your ability to win in court, in case of a trial, is one of the two critical components of your bargaining power. That means you must be able to prove your claim with evidence that complies with the complex rules of the Connecticut Code of Evidence.
The other critical component of your bargaining power is your ability to negotiate. To negotiate well, you are going to have to thoroughly understand the legal issues involved and you are going to have to know the true value of your claim. At Berkowitz Hanna, we know how to estimate the value of your claim and we can do the negotiating for you. However, only you will have the authority to agree to a specific settlement amount.
If you were injured by a defective product, you might have a valid products liability claim – and it might be worth far more than you think. Call Berkowitz Hanna today, or contact us online for a free initial consultation. We take cases from all over Connecticut through our offices in Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, and Shelton. Remember – since we work on a contingency basis, you don’t need a dime in your pocket to retain us.