Defective products have a flaw in the design, packaging or materials that makes them dangerous. The product may have been inadequately tested before marketing so that a design problem is overlooked. The packaging may be inadequate, leading to cracks or breaks where the product may spoil or leak. The product itself may contain a toxic substance. Food may be tainted with bacteria or accidentally sprayed with an insecticide that is not safe to ingest. Only one batch or series of the product may be defective.
Product liability and Illinois law
Illinois law recognizes three types of defective product liability.
- Breach of warranty: This occurs when a seller makes express or implied representations, promises or guarantees in the sale of a good, which the product fails to live up to.
- Negligence: The company was negligent in designing, manufacturing, or distributing a product. For example, a product may not have been tested at all or tests may have been obsolete. Alternatively, perhaps improper materials and inferior manufacturing processes may have been used.
- Strict liability: If a product is defective when it leaves a manufacturer, it doesn’t matter how it came to be that way. The manufacturer will be liable if a product that caused harm is shown to be defective and unreasonably dangerous.
Additionally, when a product is inherently dangerous and must be handled with caution, a company can be liable if it fails to provide adequate warnings to buyers.
Companies issue recalls for their protection, as well as their customers’. If a company does not issue a recall and people get harmed, the company risks exposing itself to extensive legal claims for damages. Furthermore, perhaps even worse, such company’s reputation could suffer greater harm if people seek more trustworthy brands.
Federal and state consumer product safety boards monitor companies and reveal cases of inadequate inspection and tests. Consumer action networks inform people of problems and organize lobbying efforts to improve product safety laws. Many products have been taken off the market only after pressure from consumer lobbying groups.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office has a Consumer Protection Division with an informative website and helpful resources. The mailing list “Sign Up for Safety” provides up-to-date information about dangerous products and recalls.
The Business Affairs and Consumer Safety program performs similar functions for Chicago residents. The website provides downloadable booklets on consumer safety. It also offers many types of online complaint forms.
What should I do?
If you are injured by a defective product, the manufacturer may be liable even if they say in writing that they are not. Options include contacting local and federal consumer protection agencies and consumer groups in your area, or an attorney specializing in product liability law or consumer protection.