Adverse Outcomes: When People Are Injured by Dangerous Products

Workers across the region that operate heavy machinery and equipment essential to their industries (e.g., oil and coal extraction, manufacturing, construction, etc.) and operators of tractor-trailers (18-wheelers) and other commercial vehicles expect these products to be safe. Good-faith reliance on the safety of products is also a given for homeowners when using household appliances and when using power tools, as well as farmers and ranchers that use various types of equipment. Likewise, parents across the Dakotas count on their young children being able to safely interact with their toys.

In fact, it is a bedrock principle of the American economic and legal systems that products sold to the public should not only work as advertised, but perform safely when used as intended. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. In fact, a significant number of individuals are harmed–sometimes seriously, sometimes fatally–by defective products every day. That is obviously tragic in every case, but rendered more troubling by this sad fact: such injuries routinely do not occur absent a failure by a designer, manufacturer, or seller which resulted in the product being defective such that it was unreasonably dangerous to the injured person.

The product liability realm: Different legal theories by which a manufacturer can be held liable for dangerous products.

As stated above, virtually no demographic among South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and the rest of the country is spared from the dangers of defective products. However, not every product-related injury guarantees financial compensation to the injured person.

In South Dakota, there are generally two different legal theories by which a manufacturer can be held liable for a defective product that resulted in injury: strict liability or negligence.

Under strict liability, the injured person need not show “fault” or “negligence” on the part of the manufacturer. Instead, the injured person must prove the following:

  1. That the product was in a defective condition which made it unreasonably dangerous to the injured person;
  2. The defect existed at the time it left the manufacturer’s control;
  3. The product was expected to and did reach the user without a substantial unforeseeable change in the condition it was in when it left the manufacturer’s control; and
  4. The defective condition was a legal cause of the injuries.

Establishing that a product was defective often focuses on the design of the product (e.g., a problem with the calculations directing its manufacture) or the manufacture of the product (e.g., mistakes or failures in the actual building or assembly of the product).

In contrast, to recover for injuries caused by a defective product under a theory of negligence, the injured person must prove that the manufacturer failed to use the requisite amount of care in designing or manufacturing the product. This requires proving that the designer or manufacturer failed to exercise the care that a reasonably careful designer or manufacturer would use in similar circumstances to avoid exposing the user to a foreseeable risk of harm.

A manufacturer can also sometimes be liable for injuries if the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warning of an unreasonable danger associated with a foreseeable use of its product. Similar to a defective design/manufacture claim, a failure to warn claim can be maintained based upon a theory of strict liability or negligence.

Injuries caused by dangerous products can result in catastrophic injuries that yield life-upending changes for the injured person and his/her family.  If you happen to be injured by a product while at work, at home, or at play, keep in mind that the manufacturer, designer, or seller may be liable for your injuries. If you believe that you were injured by a defective product, you are welcome to call the attorneys at Thomas Braun Bernard & Burke, LLP.