What is a Product Liability Lawsuit?

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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 February 2020
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A product liability lawsuit is a civil action brought against a party involved with the manufacture of a product. These cases are usually filed against product designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, or retailers. In general, the plaintiff to the suit alleges that the defendant has designed, made, distributed, or sold a defective or unsafe product. The product in question is generally a tangible item, such as a car, washing machine, or piece of clothing.

Typically, a product liability lawsuit is based on an underlying legal theory, such as negligence, breach of warranty, or strict liability. Product manufacturers can be found negligent if they fail to warn consumers about known dangers altogether. In addition, they may deemed be negligent even if they do provide some type of warning. For instance, if the warning is vague or unnoticeable, the manufacturer could be found liable.

If a product liability lawsuit is brought based on a negligence theory, the plaintiff generally needs to prove several elements. First, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff. Next, the plaintiff must demonstrate that that duty was breached. In addition, the plaintiff must prove that he or she suffered harm, such as personal injury or property damage. Finally, the he or she must show that his or her injury was proximately caused by the defendant’s actions.


If a plaintiff is filing a product liability lawsuit based on a breach of warranty claim, he or she is generally alleging that the defendant broke a promise regarding the product and that the plaintiff was harmed as a result. Ordinarily, the plaintiff does this by showing that a defect existed in the way the product was designed, manufactured, or marketed. A design defect occurs if the design of the product itself is dangerous, making the product unreasonably unsafe. Manufacturing defects occur when the design is safe but the manner in which the product has been made is unsafe. Marketing defects occur when the design and manufacturing were both safe but the manufacturer failed to provide sufficient warnings or instructions about the use of the product.

When the underlying theory of a product liability lawsuit is based on strict liability, it doesn’t matter whether the designer, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, or retailer exercised a high degree of care. Rather, the plaintiff merely needs to prove that the product itself is defective. Additionally, the plaintiff is required to demonstrate that the defect caused his or her injuries.


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