Who Can I Sue in a Defective Product Lawsuit?

Jeffrey BreitMay 26, 2021

In 2019, more than 13 million people received emergency treatment after being injured by a consumer product. While not all these injuries necessarily involve defective products, it’s safe to say that each year, millions of Americans suffer pain, injury, disability, and even death after using a product that has design or manufacturing defects. 

In many cases, those who are injured can recover damages by suing the manufacturer, retailer, or wholesaler for product liability—but there are some exceptions. Below, we’ll discuss when and who you can sue in a defective product lawsuit.

Contents

Common Causes of Defective Product Lawsuits 

Most defective product lawsuits tend to fall into these three categories: 

  • Design defects
  • Manufacturing defects
  • Failure to warn 

Design Defects

Design defects are inherent in the design of the product—when correctly manufactured and used as intended, the product still poses a risk of causing serious injury. Some common design defect lawsuits involve medical devices and prescription medications.

Manufacturing Defects

These lawsuits allege that there was a malfunction or defect in the manufacturing of the product that caused the injury. One recent example involves defectively manufactured military earplugs that caused hearing loss. 

Labeling or Failure to Warn Defects

In a failure-to-warn lawsuit, the plaintiff will argue that the product lacked necessary labeling (or didn’t include a label to warn of the risks of use), leading to injury. Some children who are injured by defective products may be able to sue under a failure-to-warn theory if there is evidence that the product at issue is only safe when used by adults.

Read More: Product Liability: What Three Factors Make a Case? 

Who is Liable for Defective Products?

Defective product liability requires a careful look at all parties who are in the chain of distribution: the manufacturer, the wholesaler or distributor, and/or the retailer. Choosing who to sue will depend on the facts of your case. Sometimes, the product defect may be so obvious that all three potential groups share liability for putting it into the chain of commerce; in other cases, the facts may point toward manufacturer or retailer liability. 

Manufacturer

A manufacturer can include the designer of the product and the person or entity that actually creates it. In some cases, manufacturing defect lawsuits can even name the suppliers of the component parts. For example, a steel foundry that produced weakened steel could be sued if there are allegations that vehicles made with this steel didn’t pass crash-safety tests. 

Wholesaler/Distributor

The wholesaler is usually the “middleman” between the manufacturer and the retailer. Wholesalers can sometimes include shipping companies that transport the item. This means that defective product lawsuits may include the shipping company if there’s any chance that the product was damaged in transit. 

Retailer

The retailer or seller of the product can sometimes be sued in a defective product lawsuit. If a defective product is recalled by the manufacturer, it’s often up to the retailer to take it off the shelves. If the retailer allows the product to be sold after this point, it may be responsible for any damages someone suffers as a result. In other cases, the retailer may be held liable for selling a product if they knew or should have known that it presented a danger to customers.

Suing a Corporation for Product Liability

In most cases, defective product lawsuits will name at least one corporation as a defendant. 

This can present some advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, corporations tend to have deeper pockets than individuals. If you’re facing hefty medical bills or a long path to recovery as a result of your injury, having a corporation on the other side of the table can increase your odds of recovering enough to compensate you for your losses. 

But depending on where the corporation is located, you could find yourself pursuing your lawsuit in a federal district court across the country. As a defendant, the corporation has the ability to request a change of venue from the court where you filed the lawsuit. While these requests may not always be granted, it’s important to remember that you may not be fighting this battle on your home turf.

Joint and Several Liability

You’ll probably see the term “joint and several liability” throughout any complaint you file. This means that if the defendants are held liable for putting a defective product into the stream of commerce, they are all equally liable for a verdict in your favor, and you can pursue any of them for collection. This can be especially helpful if one or more defendants declares bankruptcy after a judgment is entered, as this won’t extinguish their “share” of liability. 

Who Can Sue for Liability 

Suing for defective products doesn’t always require you to be the buyer or the user. While it’s true that many product liability cases are brought directly by those who are injured, there are some exceptions. 

If your spouse is injured or killed by a faulty product, you may also have a claim called loss of consortium. This is available only to spouses of those who are injured. A loss of consortium claim seeks damages for the loss of love and companionship you’ve experienced as a direct result of your spouse’s injury.

Surviving family members of someone who was killed by a defective product can also have grounds to sue. In Virginia, anyone who would be entitled to sue for personal injury (including product liability) if they had lived can still maintain a defective product lawsuit after their death. In these wrongful death cases, the personal representative of the victim’s estate will be substituted as the plaintiff. Any product liability damages will be distributed based on the victim’s will (or if there is no will, Virginia’s intestate succession statutes). 

Get Help from a Lawyer

Knowing what factors make a defective product case can be challenging. And because many states, including Virginia, have strict time limits on when you can file a defective product lawsuit, it’s important to seek qualified legal help as quickly as you can. 

At Breit Cantor, we’re committed to our clients’ well-being first and foremost. We pride ourselves on being a firm that stands by you, supports you, and helps you get the justice you deserve. If you’ve been injured by a defective product, visit our website or give us a call today to discuss your next steps.

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