What are the Main Types of Product Liability Cases?

People file thousands of product liability cases every year for different reasons. A product liability case is a lawsuit filed by someone who has suffered an injury caused by a defective product. The product could be a vehicle, a piece of furniture, a tool, or anything tangible. Product liability cases can be based on negligencestrict liability, or breach of warranty of fitness. There are a few types of product liability cases and they depend on what the defect is and is categorized into different sections for legal purposes.

Product liability refers to the liability of any or all people involved in the manufacturing of a certain product that causes damage or injuries. This includes the manufactured parts, who constructs it, the wholesaler, and the retail stores selling it. If the product develops certain defects, the product could possibly harm you or anyone else that uses it.

Most product liability lawsuits are looked at individually, but most are combined into a group, like a class action or a mass tort. However, the case will be handled differently depending on what the exact defect is. There are three main types of product liability cases. If you think you have a defective product and have suffered an injury, it is important to know what category your case is under.

Design Defect

Defectively designed products are products that contained an error in the original design. This means the party that is responsible for the damages are the people that created the product, not the retailer or manufacturing process. If there is a flaw in the original design in the product causing the product not to function properly, it can pose a major threat to anyone that uses the product. For the product liability claim to fall under design defect, you must have suffered an injury or developed an illness directly caused by the error in the design of the product.

Examples of design defects include:

  • The product contains toxic ingredients
  • Child products that are evidently dangerous to children
  • Structurally unstable products
  • Products that you use at high heat, then melting or becoming flammable
  • Mechanical defects

Manufacturing Defect

Of all the types of product liability defects, a manufacturing defect is what most people think of when they hear product liability. This is when a manufacturer makes an error when producing the product. With that error, it poses a threat to whoever is using it by causing harm or injuries. Unlike a design defect, this is when the design of the product is correct and safe, but a defect is created when it is being made. This mistake is either made on the assembly line, or the materials they used to put the product together were flawed, or if it was put together incorrectly. All of these things can make the product ultimately unsafe. Some examples of a manufacturing defect would be:

  • Assembling the product together incorrectly
  • Using wrong or outdated parts
  • Any other types of errors when manufacturing the product

Marketing Defect

Many also call a marketing defect “failure to warn”, “Warning Defect”, or “Labeling Defect”. This is when the company or manufacturer fails to provide warning or instructions for a specific product. In this instance, the design is correct, it is manufactured properly, and the product works. However, the manufacturer may incur liability by not warning customers about potential risks that should be displayed on the product prior to use.

For this type of case, you must prove that the product put you in danger, that the manufacturer should have warned you and others about the potential danger but failed to do so. You must then show that your injuries were caused by the product and how the manufacturer failed to warn you. For example, some of the common ‘failure to warn’ issues seen are:

  •  Prescription drugs 
    •  Legally, manufacturers must inform consumers of all potential side effects and possible illnesses of taking the drug
  • Overheating/Overuse
    • A product can overheat if you use it for a prolonged time or overtime in general. This could pose a threat and possibly be dangerous. If that is the case, the warning must be displayed on the packaging of the product.
  • Using a product incorrectly
    • It must show and specify what you should use the product for and how you should not use it.

Famous Examples of Product Liability Cases

Over the years many people have filed product liability cases against different businesses. Some well-known examples include:

  • Philip Morris Tobacco Products: A woman from Missouri sued the tobacco company in 2002. She claims they were responsible for her lung cancer and did not warn her of the risks. The case settled for $28 million.
  • Takata Airbag Recall: Under more than 14 manufacturers, the Takata airbags allegedly caused 150 injuries and 11 deaths. The class-action suit is still pending.
  • McDonald’s Coffee: A woman suffered from third-degree burns after she spilled McDonald’s coffee on herself. Investigations showed that McDonald’s kept their coffee at a much higher temperature compared to other places. The case settled at $2.7 million.
  • Owen’s Corning Asbestos Materials: Asbestos is a known carcinogen that can potentially cause cancer. In 1998, Owens was sued for $1.2 billion to about 175,000 cases from people who developed cancer and mesothelioma.
  • Dow Corning’s Silicone Implants: In 1998, many women sued Dow Corning because their implants were causing them major injuries. The class-action suit settled for $2 billion.
  • 3M Military Earplugs: In 2003 3M made special earplugs for the United States military to use in combat. The earplugs ended up being defective under 3M’s knowledge. Hundreds of soldiers are now suffering from ear problems and damages. The case is still pending.

Recalls & Warnings

In most types of product liability cases, you will hear about warnings and recalls. This is because if without these things, the company could be even more liable for potential damages. Product recalls and improper warning labels may open the door for liability lawsuits associated with that product.


A product recall is when manufacturers issue an urgent request to buyers to return the product or bring it to be fixed. The recall will happen because a newfound problem or safety issue discovered that can possibly put you in danger. Government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will sometimes issue recalls. This will happen when new evidence of a scientific study will come out proving that the item is indeed harmful and should be returned and removed from the market immediately.

Some companies may issue a voluntary recall. A voluntary recall is when a company issues a recall on their own, not forced by a government agency. Companies will do this because of a newfound issue with the product or the product has been tested and has shown it is harmful. Companies mostly do this to avoid potential lawsuits as well as losing money. If there is a voluntary recall, customers and retailers are not made to return the product to the manufacturer unless the company asks.

Some well-known product recalls in U.S. History include:

  • Hasbro’s Easy-Bake Oven
  • Merck’s Vioxx Drug
  • Toyota Motor’s Faulty Gas Pedals
  • Johnson & Johnson Tylenol Poisoning
  • Infantino’s Baby Slings
  • Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. Tires
  • Ace Bayou Corporation Bean Bag Chairs
  • Graco Highchairs
  • Simplicity Drop-Side Cribs
  • Ford Cruise Control

Warning Labels

A warning label is a label that is put onto a product, on its packaging, or in its manual that warns about the risks of using that product. If the company or manufacturer did not provide enough warnings on the warning labels displayed, it could cause you harm. This plays a big part in product liability because of the manufacturer or creator does not provide proper warnings, they could be 100% liable.