Product liability cases have changed the expectations of consumers when they purchase products. For thousands of years, legal systems did not really address this problem, and contracts could be enforced, but laws didn’t extend much beyond that. Perhaps a shopkeeper could be held liable for cheating on the weight of flour sold to a customer, for example, but, in general, if a product was defective, the purchaser had no legal recourse.
Winterbottom vs. Wright
This principle is illustrated by the case of Winterbottom vs. Wright. This was an English case in 1842 that involved a defective mail coach, manufactured by Wright, and an injured driver, Winterbottom. The Postmaster General purchased the coach and contracted the horses from a third party who hired Winterbottom as a driver. When the coach collapsed, seriously injuring Winterbottom, he sued Wright. The Court quickly dismissed the case on the theory that even if the seller of a product was proven to be negligent, he could only be sued by someone he had a contract with or was “in privity” with. The Lords who judged the case declared that if they allowed such cases to be heard, the courts would be flooded with similar cases.
The U.S. Courts Begin to Expand Product Liability Laws
U.S. courts gradually began to find exceptions to the “in privity” rule, finding against sellers of dangerous products. In the landmark case of MacPherson vs. Buick Motor Co. in 1916, Justice Benjamin Cardozo expanded product liability law in Madison IN far beyond than “in privity.” He stated that the manufacturer of an item has a duty to make it carefully, keeping in mind that it will be used by others than the initial purchaser, so it was no longer necessary for injured people to have contracts with the manufacturer of a product that damaged them.
The concept that a manufacturer was strictly liable for the safety of their product was first applied to food. Since then, this has expanded to an implied warranty for all products and every foreseeable user of the product so, in general, an injured person can recover damages based on the manufacturer’s negligence, breach of warranty or strict tort liability.
Product liability cases can become very complex. Anyone who has been injured by a defective product should protect their rights by immediately contacting an experienced product liability attorney.
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