Articles Posted in Products Liability

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.”

Each year, thousands of employees are injured in Maryland workplace accidents. While a Maryland workers’ compensation claim may be an injured worker’s sole remedy in some cases, that is not the case when a non-employer third party is responsible for the worker’s injuries. Thus, being able to identify a third party who was responsible for a worker’s injuries may allow an injured worker to pursue a Maryland personal injury case in addition to a workers’ compensation claim.

Product liability claims are common in Maryland third-party workplace accident cases because the dangerous or defective nature of a product rarely implicates an employer’s negligence. A recent case illustrates the type of situation in which an employee may be able to pursue a product liability claim after being injured on the job.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was performing electrical work on a construction site while standing atop a 12-foot ladder. As the plaintiff was working, an air conditioning unit that was anchored into the concrete ceiling came loose, striking the plaintiff. The plaintiff fell off the ladder, landing on the ground. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff sustained serious injuries.

There are many different types of Maryland product liability cases. Some product liability cases involve manufacturing mistakes while others are based on the defective design of a product or that it is unreasonably dangerous. Recently, the manufacturer of Round-Up weed killer has been in the hot seat after thousands of frequent users of the product have developed a specific type of cancer. While the manufacturer of the product claims that the product is safe, others argue that high levels of exposure can result in users developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Currently, a jury is considering phase one of a bellwether trial in San Francisco. A bellwether trial is the first case to proceed to trial that presents an issue that is also presented by many other pending lawsuits that have been filed by plaintiffs who are making similar claims. Thus, the result of a bellwether trial can be incredibly important to how the other subsequent lawsuits proceed. For example, if a judge decides a specific pre-trial motion in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant may be more willing to settle the subsequent cases.

According to a recent news report, the case involves a man who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Round-Up over 300 times in his 26-year career. The man claims that his use of Round-Up throughout his career was a “substantial factor” in causing his cancer. In addition, the plaintiff claims that the manufacturer of the product attempted to influence the public’s perception of the product’s safety by influencing scientists and regulators.

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In Maryland product liability cases, courts will apply one of two tests to determine if the manufacturer can be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Where a product is alleged to have a malfunction, courts will apply the “risk-utility” test. However, when there is no allegation that the product malfunctioned in any way, courts will apply the “consumer expectations” test.

Under a risk-utility analysis, courts consider whether the danger presented by the product is outweighed by its utility. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates the application of the risk-utility test.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff purchased a heating pad that was manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiff was using the heating pad as she was lying in bed, and fell asleep while the pad was on. About 90 minutes later, the plaintiff’s roommate came into the plaintiff’s room after noticing a strange smell. As it turns out, the heating pad had burned into the sheets and mattress, ultimately burning the house down. The Fire Chief determined that the heating pad was the cause of the fire.

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