What is product liability? Airbag case provides an example.

Product liability cases are designed to help ensure that products are safe for consumers.

Product liability laws are crafted to help ensure that goods are safe. One example of a product that has failed to meet this expectation that is currently highlighted in the media involves the use of airbags. One of the largest airbag manufacturers in the world, Takata, has been blamed for providing faulty airbags to vehicle manufacturers.

What is the issue with these airbags?

Airbags are designed to rapidly inflate in the event of an accident. The inflation is the result of certain chemicals that are triggered to mix during a crash. The chemicals used by Takata in these airbags have been found to degrade when exposed to moisture and changes in temperature, causing sudden combustion. The explosion that occurs within these airbags is so forceful that pieces of plastic and metal from the steering wheel have been violently propelled into the driver causing serious injuries and, some cases, fatalities. The issue is responsible for almost twenty deaths and 200 injuries thus far.

Is this a case of product liability?

This particular case is a relatively extreme example of a product liability case. Business leaders within the Takata organization are facing criminal charges for fabricating data to hide the problem. The manipulation of data used to claim the product was safe allegedly spanned 15 years. Further complicating matters, the airbag manufacturer has filed for bankruptcy, likely leaving automakers who lost value in the vehicles fighting with victims of accidents for financial compensation from whatever remaining assets are left.

Although an extreme example of a product liability case, it does provide some basic lessons for any consumer that suffers injuries from a product. Two examples that are applicable to most product liability cases include:

  • Consumer expectations matter. These cases are often based on a consumer's expectations. Consumers expect the product to be safe. If it is not and an unexpected injury results, the manufacturer may be held liable.
  • Responsibility can be difficult to track. The responsible party in product liability cases is not always clear. Victims who were injured by the air bags in a car accident likely initially blamed the car manufacturer. After further research, it became apparent that the airbag manufacturer was the responsible party. Victims may need to look towards the product manufacturer, a party that assembled the product or even the retail store to find the responsible party.

Product liability is an issue that spans the marketplace. In addition to automobiles, workplace equipment, medications and basically anything purchased at a store that causes injury to the consumer could qualify. Victims who are injured are wise to seek legal counsel to help explore their claim and build a case against the responsible party or parties.