Products liability describes a type of claim—for injury caused by a defective product—and not a separate theory of liability. In the typical case, three legal doctrines may be asserted: (1) warranty, (2) negligence, and (3) strict liability.
If a seller asserts that a product will perform in a certain manner or has certain characteristics, he has given an express warranty, and he will be held liable for damages if the warranty is breached—that is, if the goods do not live up to the warranty. Not every conceivable claim is an express warranty; the courts permit a certain degree of “puffing.”
An implied warranty is one created by law. Goods sold by a merchant-seller carry an implied warranty of merchantability, meaning that they must possess certain characteristics, such as being of average quality for the type described and being fit for the ordinary purposes for which they are intended.
An implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is created whenever a seller knows or has reason to know that the buyer is relying on the seller’s knowledge and skill to select a product for the buyer’s particular purposes.
Under UCC Article 2, the seller also warrants that he is conveying good title and that the goods are free of any rightful claim by a third person.
UCC Article 2 permits sellers to exclude or disclaim warranties in whole or in part. Thus a seller may exclude express warranties. He may also disclaim many implied warranties—for example, by noting that the sale is “as is.” The Magnuson-Moss Act sets out certain types of information that must be included in any written warranty. The act requires the manufacturer or seller to label the warranty as either “full” or “limited” depending on what types of defects are covered and what the customer must do to obtain repair or replacement. The act also abolishes “phantom warranties.”
Privity once stood as a bar to recovery in suits brought by those one or more steps removed in the distribution chain from the party who breached a warranty. But the nearly universal trend in the state courts has been to abolish privity as a defense.
Because various impediments stand in the way of warranty suits, courts have adopted a tort theory of strict liability, under which a seller is liable for injuries resulting from the sale of any product in a defective condition if it is unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer. Typical issues in strict liability cases are these: Is the defendant a seller engaged in the business of selling? Was the product sold in a defective condition? Was it unreasonably dangerous, either on its face or because of a failure to warn? Did the product reach the consumer in an unchanged condition? Strict liability applies regardless of how careful the seller was and regardless of his lack of contractual relation with the consumer or user.
Manufacturers can also be held liable for negligence—most often for faulty design of products and inadequate warnings about the hazards of using the product.
The products-liability revolution prompted many state legislatures to enact certain laws limiting to some degree the manufacturer’s responsibility for defective products. These laws include statutes of repose and provide a number of other defenses.
In a products-liability case
An implied warranty of merchantability
A possible defense to breach of warranty is
Under the strict liability rule in Restatement, Section 402A, the seller is liable for all injuries resulting from a product
An individual selling her car could be liable