Business and Product Liability
Many businesses operate by producing and selling various products. However, as the manufacturer of a product a business may open itself up to certain legal claims if a customer is injured by their product. What follows are some considerations for product manufacturers regarding product liability.
What is your Liability for Injuries Resulting from a Product?
Start-ups may encounter claims from customers who were injured by faulty or defective products. The burden lies with the customer to prove that but for the product being faulty or defective in some way, they would not have been injured. If this is successfully established by the customer the manufacturer of the product will be held liable for the injury of the customer. While this situation may be avoided through heightened quality control measures and adequate product testing, there are circumstances when an injured customer may bring forward a claim even if the product was functioning properly.
Duty to Warn
The manufacturer of a product must provide sufficient warnings regarding the risks of using their products. If there were not sufficient warnings provided, a customer may still sue a manufacturer even if the product was functioning properly and the injury resulted from the normal use of the product. The extent of the warning required hinges on two factors:
How Can a Manufacturer Defend Themselves from an Injury Claim?
The Injury was not a Result of the Product
In the event that a customer has chosen to bring a claim due to being injured by a manufacturers’ product, there are certain defenses available to the manufacturer. For one, the manufacturer may contend that a separate and distinct event was the cause of the injury. For example, if an individual is injured in a car accident because their breaks failed, this would indicate that the manufacturer may be liable for the injury. However, if it is determined that the breaks failed because of an error made by the customer’s mechanic then this may absolve the car manufacturer of liability. This is because the injury was a result of the negligent mechanic, and not any fault on the part of the manufacturer in manufacturing the vehicle.
The Customer Assumed the Risk of Injury
A manufacturer may also defend themselves by suggesting that the injured customer was aware of issues with the product. This is because the customer was aware that the product was altered or defective in some way, and still chose to operate it despite the heightened risk of injury. An example of this would be a customer choosing to use a knife even after knowing that the blade was faulty. If the blade were to snap and injure the customer the manufacturer may raise the defense that the customer assumed the risk when they chose to use the faulty or defective product.
The Customer Used the Product Negligently
Another possible defense that a manufacturer may raise is that the customer was injured because they used the product negligently in a manner that it was not meant to be used. For example, if an individual chooses to stand on a laundry hamper in order to change a light bulb and is injured because the hamper topples over, the manufacturer may argue that the injury was a result of the customers’ negligence. This is based on the customer using the hamper in a manner that that it was not meant to be used, and the argument that but for the misuse, the customer would not have been injured.
The bringing forward of a claim by an injured customer is subject to a statutory limit. This means that a claim by an injured customer can only be brought forward within a specific period of time once the injury has occurred. This period varies from province to province, but in Alberta it is generally within 2 years of the time the injury occurred. Additional information regarding limitation periods can be found in the Alberta Limitations Act.
Richie Aujla is a member of the BLG Business Venture Clinic, and is a 2nd year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Calgary
Blog posts are by students at the Business Venture Clinic. Student bios appear under each post.