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Strict Liability Law in Product Liability Claims

In tort law, strict liability is when liability is imposed on a defendant without the finding of fault, which is typically required. The only thing that the plaintiff is required to prove is that a tort occurred and that the defendant is responsible for the occurrence of the tort. Strict liability most commonly occurs when an employee commits a tort while acting in furtherance of his job and cases where products have been manufactured with a defect.

However, North Carolina is different from other jurisdictions regarding strict liability. North Carolina law does not recognize strict liability in tort for product liability claims. NCGS § 99B-1.1. This makes it more difficult to prove product liability for actions brought in North Carolina courts. The most common claims that plaintiffs bring in terms of product liability are based inadequate design or formulation and improper warning or instruction.

Design Defect

Under NCGS § 99B-6(a), a manufacturer will not be held liable in a product liability action for inadequate design or formulation of the product unless the plaintiff can prove that the manufacturer acted unreasonably in designing or formulating the product at the time of manufacture, that the manufacturers conduct was the proximate cause of the harm for which the plaintiff seeks damages and one of the following:

(1) At the time the product left the control of the manufacturer, the manufacturer unreasonably failed to adopt a safer, practical, feasible, and otherwise reasonable alternative design or formulation that could then have been reasonably adopted and that would have prevented or substantially reduced the risk of harm without substantially impairing the usefulness, practicality, or desirability of the product.

(2) At the time the product left the control of the manufacturer, the design or formulation of the product was so unreasonable that a reasonable person, aware of the relevant facts, would not use or consume a product of this design.

In determining whether the manufacturer acted unreasonably under the above referenced section of the statute, the following factors will be considered, but this is not a conclusive list:

(1) The nature and magnitude of the risks of harm associated with the design or formulation in light of the intended and reasonably foreseeable uses, modifications, or alterations of the product.

(2) The likely awareness of product users, whether based on warnings, general knowledge, or otherwise, of those risks of harm.

(3) The extent to which the design or formulation conformed to any applicable government standard that was in effect when the product left the control of its manufacturer.

(4) The extent to which the labeling for a prescription or nonprescription drug approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration conformed to any applicable government or private standard that was in effect when the product left the control of its manufacturer.

(5) The utility of the product, including the performance, safety, and other advantages associated with that design or formulation.

(6) The technical, economic, and practical feasibility of using an alternative design or formulation at the time of manufacture.

(7) The nature and magnitude of any foreseeable risks associated with the alternative design or formulation.

NCGS § 99B-6(b).

Inadequate Warning or Instruction

A manufacturer or seller of a product will not be held liable in a product liability action for a claim based on inadequate warning or instruction unless the plaintiff proves that the manufacturer or seller acted unreasonably in failing to provide such a warning or instruction, that the failure to provide adequate warning or instruction was a proximate cause of the harm for which plaintiff seeks damages and proves one of the following:

(1) At the time the product left the control of the manufacturer or seller, the product, without an adequate warning or instruction, created an unreasonably dangerous condition that the manufacturer or seller knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known, posed a substantial risk of harm to a reasonably foreseeable claimant.

(2) After the product left the control of the manufacturer or seller, the manufacturer or seller became aware of or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known that the product posed a substantial risk of harm to a reasonably foreseeable user or consumer and failed to take reasonable steps to give adequate warning or instruction or to take other reasonable action under the circumstances.

NCGS § 99B-5(a).

In regards to claims based on defective designs of firearms, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove:

  • That the actual design of the firearm or ammunition was defective, causing it not to function in a manner reasonably expected by an ordinary consumer of firearms or ammunition; and
  • That any defective design was the proximate cause of the injury, damage, or death.

NCGS § 99B-11(b).

A manufacturer or seller of a product will not be liable if:

(1) The use of the product giving rise to the product liability action was contrary to any express and adequate instructions or warnings delivered with, appearing on, or attached to the product or on its original container or wrapping, if the user knew or with the exercise of reasonable and diligent care should have known of such instructions or warnings; or

(2) The user knew of or discovered a defect or dangerous condition of the product that was inconsistent with the safe use of the product, and then unreasonably and voluntarily exposed himself or herself to the danger, and was injured by or caused injury with that product; or

(3) The claimant failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances in the use of the product, and such failure was a proximate cause of the occurrence that caused the injury or damage complained of.

NCGS § 99B-4.

If you feel that you have suffered harm because of a product that was defectively designed or lacked adequate warnings or instructions, please call contact us to speak with one of our highly skilled and experienced personal injury attorneys to discuss your case, legal rights and options.

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