What is Product Liability Law in Illinois?

Each year, many people are seriously injured by unsafe and dangerous products. But some are unaware that they may be entitled to compensation for their injuries. What is a product liability claim? Product liability cases arise when a defective product suddenly causes an injury.

According to public policy, consumers should not have to worry about whether a product they buy or use is dangerous due to a defect of design, improper manufacturing, or an inadequate warning label about the possible dangers of using the product. When people are injured by defectively designed or poorly manufactured products, companies that make or sell the dangerous product can be held responsible. Product liability claims or lawsuits not only help compensate the injured victim, but also protect other consumers by alerting the public about the product’s dangers, which may not be well known. Product liability laws help prevent others from suffering similar injuries.

Product liability refers to the legal responsibility of a manufacturer, producer, distributor, retailer, or vendor of a product to compensate an injured victim when its product causes harm or personal injury to the consumer, user, or bystander. Any person or entity in the chain of distribution of a product, including manufacturers, assemblers, suppliers, producers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, and commercial lessors, can be held liable. Product liability law can be very complex depending on the type of product and the resulting injuries.

In Illinois, there are two main legal theories that will apply to hold a manufacturer or seller liable for a person’s injuries:

1. Negligence:
Under a negligence theory, a plaintiff must prove: (1) Duty: the defendant manufacturer or seller owed a duty of care to the injured person; (2) Breach: the defendant breached that duty; (3) Causation: the defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injury, and the injury was foreseeable; and (4) Damages: the plaintiff suffered a compensable injury. Anyone involved in the chain of distribution, including the manufacturer, assembler, or in some instances, the seller or retailer, can be liable for a defective product. A duty of care may be owed to the buyer, his or her family members, bystanders, or persons holding or leasing the product from the initial buyer.

2. Strict Liability:
Under a strict liability theory in Illinois, the seller, manufacturer, or any other entity involved in the chain of distribution, may be responsible for a defective product when it harms someone. Under strict liability, a plaintiff must prove: (1) the injury to the consumer resulted from a condition or defect of the product manufactured or sold by the defendant; (2) that the condition or defect was an unreasonably dangerous one; and (3) that the condition or defect existed at the time the product left the manufacturer’s control. Coney v. J.L.G. Indus., 97 Ill.2d 104, 111, 454 N.E.2d 197, 200 (1983).

Under either legal theory, the plaintiff has the burden to prove that the product that caused the injury was defective. There are three types of product defects: design defects, manufacturing defects, and defects in marketing or warning defects. A design defect is a flaw that is inherent in the design of the product. A plaintiff must prove there was a reasonable alternative design that would have been safer than the original design, while still maintaining its cost of manufacturing and practical usage. A manufacturing defect is a mistake in the manufacturing or assembly of a product where the product deviates from its original or intended design. A marketing defect occurs when a manufacturer or seller fails to warn the consumer about the possible dangers of using the product. Even if a product label describes the dangerous nature of a product, a warning is sometimes inadequate if it does not provide the consumer with enough information to be sufficiently informed about the product’s inherent dangers.

Food recalls and other product recalls are one way to alert the public of a product’s dangers, but they come too late for consumers who have already been injured by the defective product. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer will know which legal theories to pursue in a given product liability case, and how to best present those theories. If you or a loved one has been injured by an unsafe or defective product, contact product liability attorney John Malm at John J. Malm & Associates to learn more about how you may be entitled to receive compensation.