Product Liability Law in Massachusetts

February 22, 2016

It is not unusual to purchase a product only to find that it is defective or unsatisfactory in some way. If you buy a new computer and its hard drive crashes for no obvious reason, then this may very well be called a product defect. Most people in this situation would simply seek a repair or replacement under warranty.

However, what if the product caused an unexpected injury or even killed the purchaser? For example, imagine a scenario in which someone buys an electric jug. Two days after the initial purchase, the person touches the handle of the jug while it is plugged in and sustains an electric shock. If the person survives the shock, but suffers severe burns and heart problems requiring hospitalization, the person could sue the company that sold the jug under Massachusetts product liability laws. In fact, every state in the United States has laws that protect consumers from defective goods that cause serious injury or death.

Product liability law is quite complex and the most common type of claim is called a “breach of warranty” claim. However, this should not be confused with claims for repair or replacement under warranty. Essentially, when you buy a retail product, there is an assumption that the seller has sold the product on the basis that it will perform according to expectations. This requires that any safety aspects necessary for use of the product are clearly described in instructions provided with the product.

There are other reasons for claiming compensation for a defective product. This may include negligence of the manufacturer and what is termed the “93A clause” which is specific to Massachusetts. Product liability is a complex area of the law and is best dealt with by professional lawyers who specialize in this area of state law.

If you, or a member of your family, are seriously hurt by a defective product, you should consider contacting an experienced Massachusetts product liability lawyer as soon as possible. After your accident, be sure to prevent any tampering with the product and maintain its defective condition for further investigation.

The vast majority of plaintiffs seeking to file a product liability lawsuit had purchased the product in good faith. Many injured plaintiffs properly follow the product instructions and are injured, nonetheless. In some instances, bystanders, i.e. people who had not actually purchased the suspected defective product, but were in its vicinity when an incident occurred and became injured, may be able to claim compensation as well.

A claim for injury that follows from a defective product bought in good faith is known as a breach of warranty claim. Product liability law allows those who have been injured from a defective product to do so when the following circumstances occur:

  1. The person who has sold the product to the plaintiff must be a recognized “merchant”. This means that they normally sell products of this type on a regular basis and would be expected to know something about the products they sell and where they were manufactured. If a defective product is bought from an individual who had owned it and was selling it second hand, then this person would not be classified as a merchant and a claim would not be possible under Massachusetts law.
  2. The defective product must have been sold or leased. This would rule out being injured when test driving a Buick at a dealership, for example, because the product had not actually been sold or leased at the time of the incident. In Massachusetts, it is no longer necessary that there is a direct contractual relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant. In other words, the injured party can claim compensation from any point in the chain of manufacture and distribution as long as a sale is involved.
  3. The defective product must have only been used for the purposes it was intended. This is known as the forseeable use clause. For example, if an electric razor was purchased in the United States, but used in Europe while on vacation, any claim for injuries caused by razor malfunction may be invalid because the typically electric voltage used in Europe is much higher than in the United States. Thus, the razor was not intended for use in Europe and use at a much higher voltage was not forseeable.
  4. The product must be shown to have been defective. This is where product liability law becomes complicated as it is up to the plaintiff to prove that the product was defective and that the particular defect was responsible for the injury. An experienced product liability lawyer will make use of technical experts to examine the product, or the remains of the product, as well as similar products sold by the same or different vendors to establish the cause of the injury.
  5. The injuries sustained by the plaintiff must be proven to have been a direct result of the product’s defect or defects. Again, your lawyer will ensure that medical testimony is able to link the type of injury to a malfunction or defect in the product. In some circumstances, the defect is so widespread because of a design fault that the product is recalled, often after many injuries have come to light. This may make claims against the manufacturer easier to settle.

What sort of products could result in a product liability claim?

Just about every type of product for sale could feasibly be involved in a product liability claim at some time or another, but defective products tend to fit into one of these four main categories:

  1. Retail consumer items
  2. Industrial products
  3. Automotive vehicles and parts
  4. Pharmaceutical and / or medical products and devices

Reasons for defective products

There are three main reasons why products become defective and may potentially injure or even kill a user.

  • Design defects – This type of defect happens before the product gets to the manufacturing stage. The manufacturer is not to blame for any defects as the process has been carried out correctly. Any alleged negligence would be against the person or entity who initially designed the product.
  • Manufacturing defects – The design of the product was not to blame for any defect, but the manufacturer has not followed correct guidelines. The defect is likely to be widespread in products of the same batch or due to poor quality control.
  • Failure to provide adequate warning – The injury is likely to occur if instructions are not provided to sufficiently warn against improper use.

In the event of a potential product liability claim, it is important to determine exactly what was defective and who was to blame for the defect before a lawsuit is filed with the help of an experienced Massachusetts product liability lawyer.

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Michael D. Kelly has a diverse background that provides a breadth of legal knowledge that he draws upon in serving his clients. Kelly compiled an excellent academic record during his three years at New England Law in Boston.