Product liability

PRODUCT LIABILITY

Product liability refers to the sector of law which holds suppliers, distributors, manufacturers and retailers responsible for the products they make available to consumers/the public. This means that if these products cause injury, the consumer can pursue a claim against one of the above in the supply chain (the specific one the consumer should pursue depends on the circumstances of the purchase).  Consequences of failing to supply satisfactory quality products could result in being fined or if serious enough, being imprisoned.

Who is Responsible for your Defective Product?

Producers

Producers can include importers, manufacturers, businesses that vary a product’s safety measures and that supply their own branded products. The producer of a product holds the main responsibility to make sure that products are safe for the public. There are various steps the producer has to comply with in order to ensure that they are fulfilling their responsibilities. These include warning consumers about possible risks, examining product safety and taking positive steps to resolve any safety problems which are discovered. Adopting a passive approach to the process for the maintenance of safety is not enough to fulfil your responsibilities.

If the producer’s product is deemed high-risk (this includes products such as medicines, fireworks, food and toys), the producer needs to take extra care in thwarting safety problems.

Please note that if you are a business who imports/exports products, there are further steps and considerations you need to take into account regarding product liability precautions.

Distributors

These are establishments like wholesalers and shops. They are not held liable for the injury/damage caused by defective and dangerous products, providing they hand over the identity and information of the producer who supplied them the products. Another condition is that they have not changed the product in any way (for example opened a sealed item).

How Can Product Liability be Avoided?

To avoid liability for defective/unsatisfactory products, suppliers should take out liability insurance.

What Happens if a Producer/Distributor is Found Liable?

If liability for a product which has caused harm lies with you, it is possible for the person who suffered the harm to sue you. This is true irrespective of whether they were the ones who purchased the product. The amount for which you can be sued depends on the injury suffered.

If you have product liability insurance then you will be protected from the damages awards and also from legal costs.

There are various bodies that can investigate and take action against producers/distributors if they believe that they are supplying defective/unsafe products. Enforcement authorities can take this type of action. Local councils also have officers who are responsible for Trading Standards and safety enforcement. If the product is defined as a special product, then there are separate bodies which deal with safety enforcement. Examples of special products are medicines and food.

What Can Trading Standards Officers Do if they find Unsafe Products

Should Trading Standards Officers discover unsafe products, they have the power to seize/buy goods in order to investigate the product. They also have the power to enter premises in order to check whether you are maintaining safety standards or if they believe that unsafe products are being distributed/supplied. If they believe they have found evidence to suggest the above, they are entitled to carry out the following procedures: order you to stop selling the products, ask the court for an order to destroy the products, prosecute you (which could result in either a fine or imprisonment) or recall the product which is unsafe.

How Can Product Safety Problems be Prevented?

As has already been mentioned, producers/distributors can prevent product safety problems by ensuring they think about safety at every stage of the production process, and also ensuring they stay up to date with safety standards and regulations applicable to their products.

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