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Defects in Manufacturing

A well-designed product can still harm consumers. Defects in manufacturing occur when a product is improperly manufactured and departs from its intended design. For example, a bottle of prescription drugs may become contaminated at a processing facility or a metal hip replacement may prematurely break due to substandard manufacturing practices. When these types of manufacturing defects cause injuries to consumers, the manufacturer can be found liable.

Overview of Product Defects

American law generally protects consumers who are injured by defective products. This area of law is known as product liability law, and injured consumers can file a product liability lawsuit to enforce their rights and recover compensation for their injuries. Successful plaintiffs can recover monetary compensation for hospital bills, continuing medical care, lost wages from time off work, and other damages. Product liability lawsuits also play an important role in ensuring that products sold in the United States and worldwide are generally safe for consumers everywhere.

What is a Defect in Manufacturing?

A defect in manufacturing is one that the manufacturer did not intend. The Third Restatement of Torts is an influential treatise on the law of product liability. It defines a manufacturing defect as occurring when "the product departs from its intended design even though all possible care was exercised in the preparation and marketing of the product."

This means that it does not matter how careful the manufacturer was when designing products, choosing materials, creating the assembly line, and issuing quality assurance guidelines. If a poorly manufactured product left the factory and caused injury when used for any of its intended purposes due to the defect in manufacturing, the manufacturer has to pay for any injuries. This is an example of the legal principle known as strict liability.

Manufacturing defects are relatively uncommon in product liability law. While a design defect affects every product made and a warning defect affects every product sold, a manufacturing defect generally affects a limited number of united produced. Manufacturing controls and regulatory oversight at production facilities normally limit the number of defective products, and those that are defective can be easily replaced. Products that are dangerous due to a manufacturing defect tend to be the ones that slipped through the cracks.

Challenges in Proving Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing defects can be difficult to prove. To illustrate this, consider an example. Suppose a car's braking system does not work properly and causes a plaintiff to have an accident. Even though the manufacturer of the car did not intend for the brakes to malfunction, and even though the manufacturer was not negligent in the design of the brakes, the strict liability doctrine in products liability law could render the manufacturer liable.

There can be contributing factors to a plaintiff’s injury that make proving his or her case more complicated. For example, a plaintiff may struggle to prove that a product actually caused his or her injuries. Even if a car had some defect in the braking system, the driver's poor reaction to driving conditions may have been the actual cause of an accident. This can reduce or potentially eliminate entirely a plaintiff’s recovery of damages

Manufacturing defect cases ideally should produce the defective product itself. However, this can be complicated after an accident or injury. For example, a car may be so heavily damaged in an accident that it is impossible to prove what caused the accident to occur. These and similar circumstances can make it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove their case.

Malfunction Doctrine

There are some legal doctrines that can aid patients in manufacturing defect cases. For example, in some cases, a plaintiff can rely on the "malfunction doctrine" to prove causation. Under this doctrine, if the circumstances of an accident indicate that a defect caused the accident, and the plaintiff can produce evidence that removes other possible causes, then the plaintiff can prove causation even if the product is damaged or destroyed.

Let’s look at the malfunction doctrine again using the car brakes illustration above. The plaintiff can potentially show that the very fact that he was in an accident proves that there was some defect in the brakes. In other words, if the brakes were properly designed, and there were no other external factors that could have caused the accident, then there must have been a defect in manufacturing.

To find out more about product liability suits, see FindLaw's articles about Defects in Design or Defects in Warnings.

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