Articles Posted in Products Liability

Individuals pursuing a product liability case in Maryland courts can bring their claim under one or more of the three types of Maryland product liability claims: manufacturing defects, design defects, and warning defects. Under Maryland law, a design defect case considers whether a manufacturer knew the risks inherent in the product and unreasonably put the product on the market despite the risk. This may mean, for example, that a product malfunctions due to its design or that it lacked a reasonable safety device. A design defect focuses on the risks and benefits of the product’s design and on the specifications for constructing a product.

A recent case before another state’s appeals court considered whether a rat was a product under strict liability law. In that case, a 10-year-old boy purchased a rat from a Petco store. Two weeks after the 10-year-old purchased the rat, he fell ill. He was taken to the hospital and died shortly after he arrived. It was later revealed that the boy contracted a rare bacterial infection — rat bite fever (RBF) — from the rat he had purchased at Petco and he died from complications related to the infection. The boy’s father filed a claim against Petco, alleging in part that the store was strictly liable for his son’s death. The man argued that the rat was a defective product and that Petco was liable under a strict products liability theory.

The appeals court held that a live pet animal sold in its unaltered state was not a “product” subject to the design defect consumer expectations theory. According to the evidence presented at trial, 10 to 100 percent of wild rats carry the bacteria streptobacillus moniliformis, the bacteria that causes the infection in humans. The court stated that a rat carrying streptobacillus moniliformis is not in a diseased condition (which would be the defect in this case), because the infection that the boy developed is developed by some humans after exposure to streptobacillus moniliformis. Thus, the court reasoned that the rat could not be a defective product. It further explained that in a design defect case there must be a “design” of the product, and that in this case, pet rats living in their natural state are not “designed.” Therefore, the rat living in its unaltered state could not be a product subject to a design defect theory. The court also reasoned that the store could not have prevented the defect because the animal was living in its natural state free from disease. The court noted that, although it rejected the design defect claim, the plaintiff could file claims of negligence, negligent warning, and warning and manufacturing strict liability causes of action.

In highly regulated industries like the pharmaceutical industry, medicines typically undergo rigorous testing to ensure the safety of the drug before it goes on the market. But even drugs that have been on the market for years may later prove to be dangerous. Consumers that have been injured after taking a drug they believed to be safe may be entitled to compensation for their injuries through a Maryland product liability claim.

A “failure to warn” claim in Maryland is based on the contention that a defendant failed to adequately warn consumers of the risks involved with a product. In a claim involving a pharmaceutical drug, a manufacturer may be liable for failing to disclose the side effects of a drug or failing to disclose an unreasonably dangerous condition, for example. In general, a manufacturer is responsible for warning consumers of the risks of using a product, unless the risks are so obvious or well known that a warning is not required. Warnings must clear, direct, and easy to understand. Maryland courts will consider the knowledge and expertise of consumers in deciding whether a consumer can reasonably be expected to understand the risks of the product.

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Proving causation in a Maryland negligence claim requires proving that the defendant’s negligent action was both a cause-in-fact on the plaintiff’s damages and a legally cognizable cause. This means that a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions were the actual cause and that the actions were sufficiently related and foreseeable. To prove the defendant’s actions were the cause-in-fact or “but-for” cause of the plaintiff’s damages, the defendant’s actions have to be proven to be the actual cause of the harm.

Maryland courts apply the “substantial factor test” when “two or more independent negligent acts bring about an injury.”  Under the substantial factor test, the defendant’s conduct must be a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s damages. Therefore, there can be more than one cause of injury—but the defendant’s conduct has to be a substantial factor in causing the harm.

This theory can be applied in Maryland products liability cases. In asbestos cases, Maryland courts consider whether the plaintiff’s exposure to an asbestos-containing product was a substantial factor in the development of the plaintiff’s injury. Courts generally consider the frequency, proximity, and regularity of a plaintiff’s exposure to a product to determine causation in such cases.

Anyone who has been injured by a defective product knows that holding the company accountable is an important step to make sure that other people do not suffer the same harm. In fact, filing a Maryland product liability case against the manufacturer is one of the most effective ways to hold the company responsible for manufacturing a defective product.

In a products liability case, there are generally three theories of recovery: negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. Under a strict liability theory of recovery, a plaintiff does not need to prove that the company acted carelessly in creating the product. A Maryland products liability claim requires that a plaintiff show, 1.) that the product was defective when it left the company’s control; 2.) that there was no substantial change in the product’s condition prior to its reaching the consumer; 3.) that the product was unreasonably dangerous; and 4.) that the product’s defect caused the victim’s injuries.

Even products that are not defective must also contain an adequate warning about the potential dangers of the product. A manufacturer must adequately disclose the risks and instruct consumers on the correct use of the product. Warnings and instructions about the product’s dangers and the correct use of the product must be clear, direct, and easy to understand. Courts will take into consideration the knowledge and expertise of the consumers that are reasonably expected to use the product. Damages available to plaintiffs in product liability cases include medical bills, the costs of future treatment, loss of income, mental anguish, and pain and suffering.

When individuals eat, they expect the food to be healthy and safe for consumption. Unfortunately, contaminated food can make its way into grocery stores and restaurants without anyone realizing it until it is too late. For example, last month a large food company voluntarily recalled around 200,000 pounds of hard-boiled and peeled eggs after they were linked to a listeria outbreak. According to a prominent news source covering the recall, the outbreak affected five states, including Pennsylvania which borders Maryland. As a result, one individual died and four were hospitalized.

Officials from the Food and Drug Administration discovered listeria during a routine inspection of the food company’s facility. Listeria causes fever, diarrhea, nausea, headache, and stiffness, and typically those who eat contaminated food show symptoms one to four weeks afterward. The resulting illness can be severe, and sometimes deadly: about 260 people die from it each year, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When individuals get ill or suffer premature death as a result of eating contaminated food, a voluntary recall of the product is too little, too late. While the recall may prevent others from being harmed from the product, it does not help the victims and their families, who may have accumulated large medical expenses. However, Maryland law provides an avenue for these individuals to recover against the food company through civil suits. Those directly harmed and/or their families may be able to bring a negligence claim against the food manufacturer. To be successful in these claims, the plaintiff typically must show that the manufacturer had a duty to ensure that the food was safe, that the manufacturer breached their duty either through an act or an omission, that the manufacturer’s breach caused the plaintiff’s illness, and that the plaintiff suffered real damages as a result.

In some personal injury cases, there is no direct evidence that a party was negligent, but there is also no other reasonable explanation for how the plaintiff’s injuries occurred. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies in cases in which negligence can be inferred, based on the circumstances, but there is no direct evidence of negligence. Under Maryland law, res ipsa loquitur is available in accident cases if an injury or accident “is one which ordinarily would not occur without negligence on the part of the operator of the vehicle,” and “the facts are so clear and certain that the inference of negligence arises naturally.” Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of negligence, without having direct evidence of negligence. The doctrine requires that a plaintiff show:  (1) the accident was a type that does not normally occur absent negligence, (2) the accident was caused by an instrument exclusively in the defendant’s control, and (3) the accident was not caused by the plaintiff. In a recent case, a court considered the applicability of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur after small metal fragments were discovered in a container of yogurt.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff bought a small container of yogurt that was manufactured and packaged by Yoplait. The plaintiff claimed that she opened the container, stirred it, and began eating, when she felt a crunching sensation, which she found out were sharp metal fragments. She was taken to a hospital, where 17 metal fragments were removed from her stomach. She filed claims against Yoplait for negligence and negligence per se. A trial court found that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied in this case because there was “an inference that the metal flakes were inserted . . . prior to the container being sealed.” But the trial judge found that Yoplait had rebutted the inference and dismissed the case.

The appeals court held that the judge should not have dismissed the case because if res ipsa loquitur applies, the case should go to a jury for a decision. The court explained that the doctrine warrants an inference of negligence, rather than a presumption of negligence. Therefore, the trial court should have allowed the jury to make a decision concerning Yoplait’s negligence and whether Yoplait overcame the inference of negligence. Accordingly, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The court also noted that Yoplait failed to appeal the court’s ruling that res ipsa loquitur applied in the case, so it could not decide whether that decision was correct.

Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion in a Maryland product liability lawsuit against Amazon. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff purchased a headlamp from Amazon as a gift for his friends, however, tragically, the headlamp’s batteries were defective and caused the friend’s home to ignite, resulting in over $300,000 in damages. The friend’s home-insurance policy paid damages to the victim and subsequently filed a lawsuit against Amazon to collect their costs. The insurance company alleged negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty against Amazon. Amazon moved for summary judgment, arguing that they are immune from liability because they were not the seller of the headlamp. The Circuit court held that Amazon was immune under Maryland products liability law.

The appellate court held that Amazon was not liable under Maryland products liability law because they were not the “seller” of the headlamp. The purchaser bought the headlamp from Amazon’s website; however, the transaction stated “sold by Dream Light” and “Fulfilled by Amazon.” Under Maryland law, sellers and manufacturers can be liable for product liability claims under negligence, strict liability, or warranty breach theories. However, Maryland victims must be able to establish three elements to impose liability successfully.

Generally, Maryland products liability plaintiffs must show that, the product was defective, the defect is attributed to the seller, and a causal relationship exists between the injury and defect. After a plaintiff meets these requirements, they must then show that the defect existed when the product left the manufacturer, seller, middleman, distributor, or retailer. However, sellers must have received the title and ownership of the product. Entities that do not take the title of a product during distribution are not sellers, and thus, are not liable for any defects.

An e-cigarette is a device that uses battery power to heat a liquid to a high enough temperature so that it produces an aerosol which users inhale. Typically, the fluid in an e-cigarette cartridge contains nicotine. E-cigarettes go by several names, including vape pens, tank systems, and mods. Over the past decade, use of these products has grown at an exponential rate, mostly among younger users. Maryland e-cigarette use among young adults is concerning for many reasons, including the fact that there have been many reports of severe physical injury related to use of these products.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that was brought by a man who lost several teeth when an e-cigarette device exploded while he was inhaling. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff sued several defendants who manufactured, marketed, and sold the device; however, most defendants settled with the plaintiff before trial. Thus, at trial, the case proceeded against just one defendant.

Before trial, the defendant wanted to introduce evidence that the plaintiff was a former user of methamphetamine. The defendant suggested that the plaintiff’s methamphetamine use could have contributed to the plaintiff’s damages. The court precluded the evidence, and the case went to trial by jury. After trial, a jury awarded the plaintiff $48,000 for medical expenses and $2 million in compensation for his pain and suffering.

A common question in many Maryland product liability lawsuits in which parties in the chain of distribution can be liable for an injury caused by a dangerous or defective product. Over the past decade, online retail has exploded in popularity. In the first quarter of 2019, online retail accounted for over ten percent of all retail sales. Much of these sales come from online retailers such as Amazon.com.

Recently, courts have begun to see cases in which plaintiffs seek to hold major online retailers accountable for injuries caused by dangerous or defective products sold on the company’s website. A recent federal appellate decision is the most recent case on the subject.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was walking her dog on a retractable leash when her dog lunged, breaking the D-ring on the dog’s collar. The leash snapped back, hitting the plaintiff in the face. As a result, the plaintiff ended up being blind in her left eye. The plaintiff purchased the collar on the Amazon.com (“Amazon”), and filed a product liability lawsuit against Amazon.

Over the past decade, Amazon.com (Amazon) has become a household name that many Maryland families rely on to purchase a wide variety of items. The question often comes up whether online retailers like Amazon can be held liable for dangerous products that it sells, and if so, under what theory of liability. A recent federal appellate decision provides some clarity on the issue.

According to the court’s version of the facts, the plaintiffs ordered a hoverboard from Amazon’s website. The hoverboard was not sold or marketed by Amazon. However, at some point, Amazon received reports that the battery packs in many hoverboards – including those sold on its website – were faulty and could suddenly ignite, potentially causing fires.

Amazon decided to issue a warning to its customers who had purchased hoverboards. The notice stated: “There have been news reports of safety issues involving products like the one you purchased that contain rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. As a precaution, we want to share with you some additional information about lithium-ion batteries and safety tips for using products that contain them.”

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