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What are some product liability defenses and guidelines?

New Jersey law provides an opportunity for an individual or family who suffered injuries because of a defective or dangerous product to recover damages against the manufacturer or supplier. These claims can be based on, among other things, harmful drugs, unsafe vehicles and items made dangerous by design flaws or defects. People who are injured because of these issues may seek compensation to help them recover. Lawsuits and publicity can also successfully protect others or effect a change in the product.

Cases of products liability are slightly different from other personal injury claims in that there are different defenses available to the defendants named in a lawsuit. For example, a defense a manufacturer might raise is that the plaintiff altered the product in some way after it was purchased. It can aver that this alteration caused the injury. Misuse of an item or drug by a plaintiff is often alleged.

A plaintiff has to connect the product with the party or parties claimed to be responsible for either supplying it or its manufacture. There is, however, an exception to this rule. It's called market share liability, and it applies in litigation about defective drugs. What this means is when a plaintiff can't determine which exact pharmaceutical company is responsible as the supplier of the subject drug ingested, each is held liable based on its sales percentage in the locale where the injury happened.

The burden of proof in some products liability cases actually rests with the defendant. In other words, unlike the usual personal injury cases where a plaintiff must prove a defendant's negligence, in these cases, the defendant must prove it was not negligent. Plaintiffs may also be helped when strict liability applies in their cases. In this scenario, plaintiffs don't have to prove a manufacturer was negligent, but rather, they must only substantiate that the product was defective.

Product liability cases can be complex. State laws apply as there isn't a federal product liability law. Knowledgeable testimony must back up claims, and clearly identified supply chain participants should be included in any lawsuit.

Source: FindLaw, "What is Product Liability?," accessed April. 21, 2015

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Gary D. Ginsberg is a Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who has been recognized as an expert in litigating cases in the courts of New Jersey.

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