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Why Were Product Liability Cases Rare Before 1916?

Posted on December 11, 2023

Product liability cases provide consumers with avenues to seek compensation for defective or harmful products. However, the prevalence of these claims was remarkably low before 1916.

The Doctrine of Privity

Before 1916, the doctrine of privity governed cases involving injuries caused by defective products. This doctrine mandated that a victim could only pursue compensation for injuries caused by a product if the negligent party was directly involved in the transaction of the product.

In other words, this meant that a product manufacturer could not be held liable if they did not directly sell the product to the plaintiff. For example, if a manufacturer sold a product to a retail store, and the product, in turn, caused harm to the victim, the manufacturer was shielded from accountability for the damages. As a result, victims often found themselves unable to sue, as the harm was not caused by any negligence on the part of the retailer.

What Brought About Change?

After a landmark case in 1916, MACPHERSON V. BUICK MOTOR CO., 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050, the privity doctrine was abolished. This case clarified that the absence of privity could no longer be used as a defense. Therefore, manufacturers could no longer be shielded from responsibility for a defective product simply because there was no direct transaction with the injured consumer.

Types of Product Liability Claims Available

Types of Product Liability Claims Available

Product liability cases can arise from various issues related to the design, manufacturing, marketing, or distribution of a product. Here are some common types of product liability cases:

Defective Design

These cases involve products with inherent design flaws that make them unreasonably dangerous to consumers, even when used as intended. The design itself poses a risk, affecting all units of the product.

Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing defects occur when a flaw or error in the manufacturing process results in a product that deviates from its intended design. Unlike design defects, manufacturing defects affect only a batch of the products produced.

Failure to Warn or Inadequate Labeling

Manufacturers have a duty to provide clear and sufficient warnings about potential risks associated with their products. Failure to warn or inadequate labeling cases involve situations where consumers were not adequately informed about the potential dangers of using a product.

Breach of Warranty

Product warranties, whether expressed or implied, establish certain assurances about the quality and safety of a product. Breach of warranty cases may arise when a product fails to meet the promises made in its warranty, leading to harm or injury.

How A Product Liability Attorney Can Help

Hiring a Philadelphia product liability lawyer is crucial when pursuing a product liability claim, as their knowledge and experience can significantly increase your chances of a successful outcome. A skilled attorney can assess the details of your claim, helping you determine the most appropriate course of action based on the type of product liability involved. They will gather relevant evidence, consult experts if needed, and navigate negotiations or court proceedings on your behalf.