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Limitations of the Law in Determining Product Liability, Essay Example

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Essay

Product liability is one of the legal provisions that protect consumers against harmful products. It holds manufacturers, distributors and marketers liable for any damage suffered by the consumer as a result of a harmful or defective product. However, more often than not, defendants use legal technicalities to evade justice when they are accused of manufacturing, marketing or selling harmful products. The dilemma of the criminal justice system in dealing with the marketing of harmful products lies in the fact that the law protects both the offender and the plaintiff until it is determined, within the law, that the former is guilty. This essay argues that offenders manage to evade justice or receive light penalties because it is difficulty to establish the extent to which the defendant is responsible for the harm suffered by the plaintiff.

Capitalism is perhaps the common denominator in the conflicts that arise between business practices and the law. A capitalist market provides a free environment for market competition, in which the buyer is at liberty to choose a given product at a given price, quality notwithstanding. For instance, the law does not determine how effective a drug that claims to relieve pain ‘fast’ should be in order to enter the market, or whether it is in order for the user to sue after failing to get well within a given time. At the same time, the application of Daubert in litigation cases favors the defendants, in situations whereby expert testimony is required to establish whether the product meets the proper ingredient requirements in accordance to its use (Cranor, 2005, p. 5). Therefore, the difficult in establishing plaintiff’s claims on the basis of scientific knowledge makes it easier for defendants to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims as baseless, and as a result escape with no or light sentences.

Legal provisions such as assumption of risk and product misuse can be applied to show that “the user knew of the risk and voluntarily assumed it, or that user misused the product in a way unforeseeable by the manufacturer” (Miller & Jentz, 2010, p. 387). It is here that requirements of strict product liability come into play to further shift blame from the manufacturer to the consumer. In the U.S. constitution, for instance, section 402A of the Restatement of Torts determines that for the manufacturer or marketer to be liable, “the product must be in a defective condition when the defendant sells it” (Miller & Cross, 2008, p. 394). In a court of law, defense lawyers can easily demonstrate that it is difficulty to establish the plaintiff’s claims due to the gap between the time of purchasing and the time of suing, during which other factors beyond the defendant’s control, e.g. poor handling by the plaintiff could cause damage.

Finally, marketers sometimes employ marketing strategies that creates situations that transfer responsibility to the consumer. In a law suit filed in a Tennessee court in 2004 against a lamp manufacturer, the plaintiff claimed that a halogen torchiere lamp that caught fire after a child placed a pillow on it was dangerous. However, the court ruled in favor of the manufacturer, stating that “the lamp was not unreasonably dangerous” (Marzilli, 2010, p. 72). Additionally, the provision of product information like ingredients, usage and sometimes warnings, as in the case of tobacco products, absolves the manufacturer of any wrong doing in the event it causes harm. Thus, it is difficulty to hold a tobacco manufacturer responsible even if it is determined that a patient died of cancer as a result of smoking. One argument in the former’s favor is that neither the manufacturer nor the marketer is in a position to control the way the consumer uses a product, such as in the case of tobacco addiction.

References

Cranor, C. F. (2006). Toxic Torts: Science, law, and the Possibility of Justice. London: Cambridge University Press.

Marzilli, A. (2010). Product Liability. New York: Infobase Publishing.

Miller, R. L., & Jentz, G. A. (2010). Business Law Today: The Essentials 9th Edition. New York: Cengage Learning.

Miller, R. L., & Cross, F. B. (2008). The Legal Environment Today: Business in Its Ethical,  Regulatory, E-Commerce, and Global Setting. New York: Cengage Learning.

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