Washington, D.C. Design Defect Product Liability Claims

When a product is released for sale to the general public, the manufacturer of the product is responsible for ensuring that the product is safe for its intended use and does not present an unreasonable risk of injury. If someone is injured due to a product that suffers from a design defect, the injury victim can file a Washington, D.C. product liability claim against the manufacturer.

Typically, Maryland product liability claims are brought under the theory of strict liability, meaning that an injury victim does not need to prove that the manufacturer was negligent; only that the defectively designed product caused their injuries. However, certain exceptions to this general rule exist. A recent case involving a rented Bobcat light-construction vehicle discusses one of the more common exceptions.

According to the court’s opinion, a man rented a Bobcat skid-steer loader from a rental agency. The machine was an open-framed vehicle that was used for light construction and demolition tasks that could be fitted with hundreds of attachments, depending on the intended use of the machine. A door-kit was one of these add-ons.

While the man was using the machine, a tree branch swung into the cab area, killing him. The man’s loved ones (“the plaintiffs”) filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, as well as the rental agency. The plaintiffs claimed that the machine suffered a design defect because it “did not incorporate the optional door kit.”

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that the machine suffered a design defect based on the manufacturer’s decision not to include the optional door-kit. The court began its analysis by citing a previously decided case that held a machine or vehicle is not defective for failing to include optional safety equipment if:

  • the buyer is knowledgeable about the product and is aware that the optional safety feature is available;
  • there are safe and normal uses for the product without the optional equipment; and
  • the buyer is in the position of being able to weigh the costs and benefits of adding the safety feature.

In an attempt to get around the court’s previous decision, the plaintiffs tried to distinguish their case by arguing that their loved one did not purchase the machine from the manufacturer, but instead rented it. The plaintiffs argued that the manufacturer knew that the party who purchased the machine was going to rent it out, and that the machine should have included the door kit. Essentially, the plaintiffs claimed that the court’s analysis from the previous case did not apply because the machine was a rental.

The court disagreed with the plaintiff’s that their case should mandate a different result, and held in favor of the manufacturer. The court explained that the purchaser (in this case, the rental agency) was in a position to weigh the costs and benefits of purchasing the vehicle without the added safety feature. Additionally, the court explained that the plaintiffs were not without recourse because they could, and did, pursue a claim against the rental agency. Essentially, the court determined that in situations like this one, the rental agency, not the manufacturer, should bear responsibility for any negligence related to a lack of necessary safety features.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an accident involving a dangerous or defective product, contact the dedicated Washington, D.C. product liability lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we have a decades-long history of providing compassionate and aggressive representation to injury victims across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation against those responsible for your injuries, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

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