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Detailed Practice Notes written by our Professional Support Lawyers, guiding you through the key issues in each topic.
Product liability claims - overviewClaims in contract
If a claimant has purchased a product from a defendant which is found to be 'unfit for purpose' or of 'unsatisfactory quality' the claimant will have a remedy as against the defendant irrespective of whether there was any fault on the defendant's part. While this makes the claimant's position stronger than in common law negligence this principle only applies where the claimant was a party to the original contract. There are only limited remedies available to third parties who were not the purchaser but were the end-user, for example where they received the unfit product by way of a gift.
Product liability under contract does not simply arise when there has been a sale of goods. Similar remedies will also apply to contracts for the repair and exchange of goods, to hire purchase contracts and to contracts for the sale and supply of goods.
Claims in negligence
A manufacturer owes a duty of care to the ultimate consumer of their manufactured goods. Where defective goods are held to pose a threat of injury or safety the claimant will have a remedy in common law negligence for breaching this duty of care if it can be shown that the manufacturer was at fault.
The claimant does not need to be the purchaser of the product and any person affected can claim against the manufacturer. Claims can therefore be made by purchasers as well as the end-user of the product.
The claimant is not restricted to pursuing a claim against the manufacturer and in certain circumstances can bring a claim against any party who assembled the goods using externally purchased parts, repairers of the goods and occasionally suppliers.
Claims under the Consumer Protection Act 1987
The Consumer Protection Act 1987 imposes strict liability for defective products on:
the producer of the product
the manufacturer or assembler of the product if different from the producer
any party who has been responsible for a process the product has gone through or who has abstracted an element of the product
any party who holds themself out as being the producer of the product
any importer of the product into the EU
The consumer of the defective goods therefore has a large pool of potential defendants to select from. The direct supplier of the goods to the defendant, eg the retailer, installer or distributor, is not liable under the act although they are obligated to provide details of their supplier and can attract liability if they fail to do so.
The liability imposed is joint and several and the consumer therefore has the option of issuing proceedings as against multiple defendants along the supply chain. The burden of proof is on the claimant to prove that there was a defect in the product which made it unsafe and which caused the injury.
There are a number of factors which need to be taken into account when assessing the defect:
any instructions or warnings given with the product
the manner in which the product could potentially be used by the consumer
the time when the product was supplied by one producer to another
The consumer is entitled to recover damages for all personal injuries caused by the defect in the product.
Defences to claims made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987
There are a number of defences open to producers/manufacturers of the product:
the defect was attributable to compliance with a statutory or EC requirement
the product was not supplied in the course of a business, or not with a view to profit
the defect did not exist at the relevant time
the 'development risks' defence
the defect was in the subsequent product not the component part
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