Articles Posted in Products Liability

Washington D.C product liability claims generally arise after a person suffers injuries or dies because of a design defect, manufacturing defect, or inadequate warning. Product liability generally applies to the legal responsibility that a product’s designer, manufacturer, distributor, or retailer has towards consumers. The premise of the theory is that consumers have a right to safe and effective products.

Failure to warn claims involve situations where a consumer suffers injuries or dies because of an inadequate or missing warning. The claims can survive despite the product’s appropriate design and manufacture. Manufacturers must clearly warn consumers of any known or potential hazards associated with the product. Further, manufacturers must include instructions on how to use the product appropriately.

Injury victims or their families must establish that the product contains a defect that makes it unreasonably dangerous, the defect was present when the product left the manufacturer, and the defect caused the victim’s injuries and damages. Companies must clearly convey the warning to customers. Courts will generally look to the totality of the circumstances when determining whether a warning was sufficient. However, it is essential to note that manufacturers do not need to warn consumers of apparent dangers. For example, a switchblade company does not need to warn customers that the blade is dangerous. However, a pharmaceutical company should warn consumers that taking a particular medication may impair their driving.

When someone experiences illness, disease or death because of a contaminated or unsafe food product, discovering who was liable and recovering damages can be challenging. Determining liability among parties throughout the food supply chain is complicated and requires a comprehensive understanding of complex tort laws. The first step in developing a solid case is establishing which type of defect caused the claimant’s injuries. Generally, product liability defect claims stem from design defects, manufacturing defects, or marketing defects. In the case of food contamination, the majority of cases arise from manufacturing defects. These claims fall under one or more legal theories, including negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty.

Many product liability lawsuits involve:

  • Defective infant items
  • Electrical machines
  • Poorly designed car parts
  • Recalled drugs and devices

While all of these claims present unique challenges, product liability lawsuits involving contaminated food present victims with arduous evidentiary issues; even if a food manufacturer or distributor recalls a contaminated food item, injury victims must still meet strict requirements to recover damages successfully.

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Every day, many Washington, D.C. residents use Amazon’s website to do their online shopping. Shoppers purchase books, clothing, technology, household supplies, and more on the online marketplace. Some items are sold by Amazon themselves, but many are sold instead by third-party sellers on the Amazon website. But sometimes, individuals may be sold defective or dangerous products and find themselves injured as a result. In these situations, injured shoppers may want to file a personal injury lawsuit against the seller or the manufacturer of the products and against Amazon themselves in the case of third-party sellers. But it can be confusing to know when Amazon can be held liable in these products’ liability suits and when they cannot.

For example, take a recent state appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff in the case purchased a hoverboard on Amazon’s website in late November of 2015. When the hoverboard had not arrived by mid-December, the plaintiff sent an email to the third-party seller through Amazon’s website. Five days later, she received the hoverboard, which she gifted to her son for Christmas. On New Year’s Eve of that year, her son plugged it into an outlet, which started a fire. Loomis suffered burns to her hand and foot as a result. She brought a personal injury lawsuit against Amazon the next year on a theory of strict liability. Amazon filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint.

On appeal, the appellate court reversed. The court explained that Amazon could be held strictly liable under that state’s law—meaning held liable even without a showing of fault—for defects in a product if they were in the chain of production and marketing of the product. And the court found that Amazon was in that chain; Amazon interacted with the customer, took the order for the hoverboard, processed the order to the third-party seller, collected the money for the order, and was paid a percentage of the sale. In fact, over a two-month period in which this specific hoverboard was sold, the seller sold over $736,000 in hoverboards. Amazon received over $110,000 in fees from those sales for just that two-month period. Because of these connections, sufficient to establish themselves in the chain of production and marketing of the product, the court held that the trial court had incorrectly granted Amazon’s motion for summary judgment and reversed, meaning the plaintiff should be able to proceed forward with her claim.

After a person encounters a defective or dangerous product, they may suffer serious physical injuries, property damage, and psychological trauma. The long-standing effects of these accidents may result in significant medical expenses, lost wages, and similar financial difficulties. Those who suffer injuries because of a defective product should contact a Washington, D.C. product liability attorney to discuss their rights and remedies.

Product liability broadly refers to the legal responsibility of those that are in the chain of design, production, or distribution of a product. While most Washington, D.C. product liability claims fall under the theory of strict liability, some involve general negligence theories and breach of warranty claims. Negligence cases usually involve allegations of a product’s defective design, manufacturing defect, or failure to warn. In contrast, strict liability claims do not require a plaintiff to establish that a manufacturer or seller was negligent. Instead, these claims hinge on the unreasonably dangerous or defective nature of the products. Proving an item was “unreasonably dangerous” requires a thorough and nuanced understanding of complex product liability laws.

For instance, a recent appellate court opinion addressed whether a plaintiff presented legally sufficient evidence to support their design defect claim. The case arose after an HVAC technician purchased an installed air conditioning unit compressor that became overheated and ignited the technician in flames. The technician filed a lawsuit against the product manufacturer, arguing that the terminal they used in the unit was unreasonably dangerous. In support of this claim, he asserted that parts manufacturers made two parts for the same cost, but the older design was more prone to failure. The technician claimed that the company’s decision to use the older design created an unreasonably dangerous product. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff, and after analyzing a series of complex evidentiary and legal arguments, the court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff.

Presenting strong expert witness testimony is essential in many Washington, D.C. injury cases. But before the testimony can be considered, it must be admissible under evidentiary rules. In 2016, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a decision adopting Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the Daubert test articulated in the Supreme Court case Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The Daubert standard now applies in all civil and criminal cases in Washington, D.C. and focuses on the relevance and reliability of the evidence.

Under Rule 702, a witness who is qualified to testify as an expert based on knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify if:

  1. The testimony will be helpful in order to understand the evidence or determine a fact at issue;
  2. The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
  3. The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
  4. The expert witness reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

In a recent case before a federal appeals court, the court excluded expert testimony in a personal injury case, finding that the testimony was not reliable. In that case, the plaintiff severely injured his right leg, foot, and ankle when a skid-steer loader he was operating at work tipped over. When it began to tip forward, the plaintiff braced his right foot near the front opening. His foot slipped out the front and he brought the lift down on it, crushing his foot. He and his wife filed a strict liability claim against the manufacturer alleging that the machine was defectively designed.

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Self-driving cars were introduced several years ago, but as crashes continue to occur, they raise safety concerns for everyone on the road. Many say that self-driving cars employ safety features that make them safer than other cars and that drivers are cautioned to keep their eyes on the road. However, others say these vehicles are ripe for misuse and multiple crashes seem to support the fact that they present unique safety issues. Victims of a Washington, D.C. car accident involving a self-driving car or a negligent driver may be able to recover compensation from the driver or other entities at fault, as discussed further below.

A recent Tesla crash in Detroit has raised questions about the safety of the vehicle after multiple incidents, as one news source reported. In 2016, a man died in a crash in Florida when the vehicle was on Autopilot and failed to recognize the trailer of a truck crossing the highway. In 2019, another Tesla similarly crashed into a tractor-trailer when Autopilot was engaged. The recent incident in Detroit also involved a Tesla that crashed into the trailer of a truck. The company has not reported whether the vehicle was using Autopilot at the time. As in the 2016 accident, the Tesla drove under the tractor-trailer and tore off the roof of the car. The driver and the passenger suffered serious injuries in the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA reported that it was investigating 23 similar crashes.

The Autopilot system uses radar and cameras to detect vehicles and objects in the road and can steer, accelerate, and brake automatically. The company maintains that drivers are supposed to pay close attention to the road when using Autopilot and should be ready to take control of the car. Yet, critics say that the company lacks safeguards to prevent drivers from misusing the system. Another vehicle with similar features switches off the autopilot when the driver looks away from the road and can only be used on major highways.

A recent congressional report revealed that many baby foods sold in the Washington, D.C. area contain high levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and cadmium. As one news source reported, investigators raised concern over the levels which surpassed levels allowed in products like bottled water. The report highlights the U.S. government’s lenient approach to oversight of the safety of baby food.

Exposure to heavy metals has been linked to behavioral impairments, brain damage, and death. Four companies, Nurture, Inc. (which sells HappyBABY), Beech-Nut, Gerber, and Hain Celestial Group (which sells Earth’s Best), provided information about their testing policies and results. Three other companies, Walmart (which sells Parent’s Choice brand), Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell Soup Company (which makes Plum Organics brand), did not provide information regarding testing policies and results. Lawmakers raised concerns over the potentially higher levels contained in the products that did not provide the requested information.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not set limits on heavy metal limits for baby foods, apart from arsenic levels in rice cereal. The levels of inorganic arsenic from two companies that tested such levels exceeded the levels set for infant rice cereal. Although heavy metals occur naturally in some vegetables in grains, the amounts may increase if manufacturers add other ingredients to the food, such as vitamin and mineral mixes.

Knowing the applicable filing deadlines is essential in a Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit. Failure to abide by the deadlines will often result in a dismissal of one’s case, and in some circumstances, the case cannot be refiled. The statute of limitations refers to the deadline for filing certain types of claims after a cause of action accrues. In general, there is a three-year statute of limitations for Washington, D.C. personal injury cases and a two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death cases. The deadline may be able to be tolled, or extended, in some circumstances.

A statute of repose is similar to the statute of limitations but is more strictly construed. It puts a fixed deadline on filing for certain claims. Some states have statutes of repose for personal injury claims—Washington, D.C. does not have a general statute of repose for such claims, though it does have statutes of repose for certain claims. For example, the District of Columbia has a statute of repose of ten years for damages to real property based on the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property.

A recent case demonstrates how statutes of repose and statutes of limitations can be applied and why they must be adhered to. In 2003, the plaintiff underwent surgery during which a TVT transvaginal mesh sling device was implanted. She later began experiencing pain, urinary issues, and scarring. Her doctor told her that the mesh had eroded and had a procedure to remove the implant in 2006. That same year, she had a similar mesh sling implanted, which was later eroded and removed in 2011. She claimed that she learned of the injury in July 2012 after a physician said that the mesh was the likely cause of her injuries.

If anyone suffers an injury or sickness caused by a recalled food, they may be able to file a Washington, D.C. product liability claim to recover compensation. Recalls generally involve foods contaminated by various pathogens, such as E. coli or Salmonella. Food recalls can also occur due to a foreign object being present in the food. The Food and Drug Administration monitors the safety of most food products, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products.

A recall does not automatically establish that a defendant is liable, but it may serve as evidence in a product liability case. A court may not always allow such evidence, but even if it does, the plaintiff must still prove that the specific food that the plaintiff consumed was defective and that the defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Cases like this may require the testimony of an expert who can explain the link between the defect and the plaintiff’s symptoms and injuries. If there is evidence of a recall, that may help prove that the food the plaintiff purchase was contaminated. Testing may also be done in some situations to determine if the food was actually affected. Testing may also be done on the plaintiff to show whether certain pathogens were present in the plaintiff’s body.

Over 760,000 Pounds of Hot Pockets Recalled

A product recall is not required for a viable Washington, D.C. product liability claim, just as a product recall does not automatically mean that a consumer has a viable Washington, D.C. product liability claim. However, if a product is recalled, it is a sign that a product is not safe. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) investigates injuries associated with consumer products. The CPSC can issue a voluntary recall notice or a mandatory recall notice, depending on the nature of the defect.

Although a consumer of a recalled product may be able to have the product refunded or replaced pursuant to a recall, the consumer must have been injured by the defective product in order to file a product liability claim. A plaintiff in a product liability case in Washington, D.C. must establish that the defendant manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable for the injuries caused by the defendant’s defective product. In a strict liability claim, this generally means proving that the seller was engaged in the business of selling the defective product, that the seller expected the product to reach the consumer, that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous when it was sold, that the product was not substantially changed when it reached the consumer, and that the defect in the product caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

Crockpots Recalled After Burn Injuries

One company is recalling almost a million crockpots sold by various retailers after consumers reported burns after the lids on the crockpots blew off. According to one news source, around 100 consumers were burned after the lids blew off the crockpots while they were in use, spewing hot food and liquid. The crockpots were able to pressurize even though the lid was not fully locked, causing the lid to blow off while it was being used. There were 119 reports of lids detaching, causing a reported 99 injuries. Some consumers suffered serious injuries, including third-degree burns.

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