When we think of personal injury law, we tend to imagine someone being hurt directly by someone else. Bob is hit by a motorcycle. A worker who wasn’t looking knocks someone in the head with their construction machine. Even in a slip and fall case, we think of one person who didn’t keep their parking lot safe directly injuring someone else. However, there are many ways of being injured, and there are many forms of liability.
One thing that may not come up in our minds is being injured by the product itself. This, too, is a direct form of negligence. Companies have a responsibility to make safe devices used by the masses. If you are injured by a product, that is a form of direct negligence on the part of the maker.
So, how do you prove that the product itself caused your injury? Let’s look at some of the necessary factors.
When a product does not work as intended, we call this “manufacturer error.” Let’s say there is a loose piece on a brand-new bicycle. You may not notice it at first, but as you ride your bike from place to place, that piece slowly loosens, completely unknown to you. One day, riding down a hill, this part dislodges completely and the wheel flies off.
This could be the result of a manufacturer error. Clearly, that piece is meant to stay in place, but somewhere in the building of the bicycle something went wrong. The company made a bad bicycle, and you were hurt. Therefore, you may be able to sue.
Sometimes a product is, by its very nature, dangerous. The manufacturer knows it can be harmful, and so does the consumer. Even then, the consumer has certain expectations for their own safety.
Let’s say you’re a cigar aficionado, and you’ve bought a butane lighter. This is an apparatus that spits fire. Clearly, you’re smart enough not to look directly into the barrel and turn it on. However, this particular lighter can get very hot very quickly, and it burns your hand. It is the company’s responsibility to label all potential dangers associated with their product. You have a reasonable expectation that, by using it, you won’t burn your fingers. This can be argued in court when seeking damages.
Sometimes there is nothing specifically wrong with an item. It doesn’t have broken, loose pieces, and its potential dangers are appropriately labeled. It was built correctly, and it operates correctly. Yet, people are still hurt by it. This may be an example of a design flaw.
Let’s say you bought a fancy new power tool, a handheld electric saw with a spinning blade. It’s sturdy, and there’s nothing overheating or flying off of it. However, the designers put one of the handles too close to the blade. You can’t really use the saw without using both handles, and the placement of those handles damages your fingers. This is an example of a design flaw. Everything works perfectly, but the engineers misjudged the shape of the machine.
Compared to some other states, Florida has a shorter amount of time allowed to sue for product liability. By the state’s statute of limitations, you must file suit within four years of your injury. Even this time limit can be invalidated, because the state can decide that you “should” have discovered the injury earlier. The statute of limitations can be backed up to that date.
Along with a statute of limitations, Florida also has something called a “statue of repose.” This puts a time limit on your ability to sue, regardless of circumstances. Florida’s statute of repose for product liability is 12 years. This means that you cannot sue if the product injured you 12 years after you bought the product. The state feels that you’ve been in possession of the product long enough that if it were going to hurt you, it would have by then.
There are some potential ways to get around these statues. One way is by looking at a product’s warranty. If the company guarantees the product for 15 years, you may be able to use that in court. You can argue that even though 12 years have passed, the product should have been safe for the full 15. This is where you can really benefit from the services of a good lawyer, who can present this evidence in court.
Another way you and your lawyer can fight against these time limits is by demonstrating “delayed onset” injuries. These are injuries that result from a gradual wearing down of the body, as opposed to being suddenly hurt. Users of a certain brand of keyboard, for example, may be showing more signs of carpal tunnel syndrome than those who used other brands. You may not even be aware of this injury until later in life, far past the 4 or 12 year limits. Your lawyer can argue that such limits are unreasonable, because there was no way for you to have symptoms within that timeframe.
It’s no secret that companies want to shield themselves from lawsuits. They will use every trick at their disposal to put the onus of your injury on you, and not them.
The manufacturer’s lawyers may claim that you used the product incorrectly, and that’s why you were hurt. Your lawyer can investigate the history of the device and see if there have been similar claims. Also, they can look into the design and labeling of the product to help demonstrate how you had no reason to believe your use of the product would result in injury.
Similarly, companies may try to prove that you changed the product somehow. You removed this protective shield or that hinge. Even if that’s true, your lawyer can once again work to prove that there were no warnings against removing this or changing that.
There may even be evidence to support that, given the design of the gadget, it would be unreasonable to assume danger in your alterations. Let’s say you download unapproved software onto your game console. You might be at fault if that program crashes the machine, but it would be absurd if outside software caused your PS5 to explode. That’s an example of how your lawyers can argue against an alteration defense.
If you’ve been hurt by a product, we can give you a free consultation. There’s no risk in contacting us, so call (850) 764-0383 or contact us online.