When you purchase a consumer product, you have a reasonable expectation that is is safe for its intended use. If it isn’t safe, and you are injured because of a defect in the product, who should be held responsible? This is one of the questions underpinning product liability law.

Under the laws of Pennsylvania and the federal government, nearly any party that helps a dangerous product get into the stream of commerce can be held liable if a consumer is injured by a defective product. This can include the companies that designed, manufactured and sold the product.

Defective products can include many types of consumer goods, including cars, car parts, children’s toys, prescription medications and more. In recent years, there has been a great deal of litigation involving patients who were injured by defectively designed medical implants or defectively manufactured automobile airbags.

Categories of defects

Product defects come in three main categories: defects in design, manufacturing or marketing.

A defective design makes a product unreasonably dangerous as designed. A defect in manufacturing can make a well-designed product unreasonably dangerous. Marketing defects include inadequate safety warnings, bad instructions and other problems that can make a product unsafe for the consumer.

Unavoidable risks

It’s important to note that some products come with inherent risks. A common example of an unavoidably unsafe product is a carving knife. By its nature, a carving knife is sharp enough to cause serious injury. There’s no way to get rid of that risk without making the knife useless.

Some related concepts here are reasonableness and expense. Theoretically, someone could design a laser knife that can carve a turkey but never cut a person, but how practical would it be, and how much would it cost? If the 100% safe laser knife was the size of a refrigerator and cost $1 million, it would not be a very practical option. Therefore, it isn’t unreasonable to design, manufacture and sell a smaller, cheaper, but unavoidably dangerous carving knife.

However, it can be important for those selling these dangerous products to provide their buyers with adequate warnings and instructions. This is one reason for those long warning labels on medication bottles: The manufacturer does not want to be held liable if it fails to provide consumers with adequate warnings and instructions.

Because product liability law is so complex, it is important for the injured and their families to seek out help from experienced personal injury attorneys. These cases can be difficult, and resolving them can take a long time. However, they can be crucial ways for the injured and their families to recover compensation after a terrible injury, and they can be important ways to hold powerful companies accountable when they fail to make consumer safety a priority.