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How Product Recalls Affect Manufacturer Liability

How Product Recalls Affect Manufacturer Liability

Thousands of consumer goods get recalled every year, from tainted lettuce to defective cars. Sometimes a manufacturer voluntarily issues a recall after discovering a problem that makes their product unsafe. Other times a regulatory agency, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, will take legal action to compel a manufacturer to issue a recall. Someone who is injured by a recalled product continues to have legal recourse against the manufacturer for products liability.

A product recall is not a “get out of jail free” card

Nevada’s products liability law provides that anyone involved in the creation or marketing of a dangerously defective product may be held legally responsible for any injuries the defect causes. NRS 695E.090. This captures not only the product’s manufacturer, but also its designer, importer, distributor, and marketer. One reason for this broad scope is to ensure that injured consumers have the best opportunity to recover for their damages, without needing to target only one entity. It then falls to the parties involved in the defective product’s distribution chain to work out amongst themselves who is ultimately responsible. Businesses involved in making or marketing consumer goods typically carry insurance to cover products liability claims.

An injured plaintiff can sue on two different theories:

  1. Negligence. The plaintiff must show that the defendant failed to take reasonable care to ensure the product was reasonably safe.
  2. Strict products liability. If sufficient facts are available, the plaintiff can seek to shift the burden of proof to the defendant by showing that the defect was present in the product when it left the defendant’s possession, the plaintiff used the product in a foreseeable way, and the defect caused the plaintiff’s injury. Nev. J.I. 7.02.

A product recall doesn’t absolve the parties in the chain of liability from responsibility. In fact, it can be a potentially powerful piece of evidence in a trial. The fact a product was recalled can be used to establish that the product was, in fact, defective. If marketers and distributors don’t pay attention to the recall they may be committing a serious act of negligence.

To ensure fairness, a plaintiff must be able to show that the defect was present in the specific item that caused the injury. For example, a manufacturer of electric blankets issues a recall for a blanket due to a short in its power switch that creates a fire risk. If the plaintiff was injured by a fire caused by the same short, chances are good that a court will allow the fact of the recall to be presented to a jury. But if the plaintiff was injured by a different problem with the blanket (such as a short within the sheet itself), the recall probably isn’t relevant.

Ignoring a recall and assuming the risk of injury

Consumers who become aware of a product recall should comply with them to avoid injury. Failing to heed a recall is not just dangerous, but also potentially hands potential defendants a legal argument that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by continuing to use the product. The weight of an assumption of risk defense will depend on the facts. A plaintiff injured by a burning electric blanket may be assuming the risk of injury if she ignored multiple recall notices and a news story about the issue.

For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented injured clients in the Las Vegas area in products liability cases. If you have been injured by a defective product and have questions about your legal options, our attorneys can help. To speak to an attorney at no cost, please give us a call today at 702-388-4476. We can also be reached through our contacts page.