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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Essay on Negligence and Strict Liability - Reasons for Imposing Liability against Manufacturers

            There is strict liability if one is made liable independent of fault, negligence or intent after having established certain facts specified by law.  Strict liability can be committed even if reasonable care was exercised and regardless of the state of mind of the actor at that time.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines strict liability as liability without fault.  A case is one of strict liability “when neither care nor negligence, neither good nor bad faith, neither knowledge nor ignorance will save defendant.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1968 Ed. p.1968)

            One particular example of strict liability is the liability imposed on the manufacturer of any product for damage caused by that product.  It is now well-settled that manufacturers of defective products are strictly liable in tort to consumers and users for injuries caused by defective products.  (Kenneth Ross, 2008, p.1) This essay focuses on the analysis of the concept of strict liability imposed on manufacturers of defective products.  I aim to use two scholarly articles which explain this concept.  Distinction will be made on the different legal theories that are the source of the manufacturers’ liabilities on their consumers – negligence, breach of warranty and strict liability.  Emphasis will be given on the arguments and reasons why the law now places liability on the manufacturers who places on the market products which are defective.

Strict Liability against Manufacturers of Defective Products. 
            Under this principle, the law places strict liability on the manufacturer of the product when the article he places in the market proves to have a defect that causes injury to a human being.  This principle was first recognized to unwholesome products food but products but over time such liability has now been extended to a variety of other products that create similar hazards to the public.  The purpose of the same is to ensure that the costs of injuries resulting from defective products are borne by the manufacturers that put such products on the market rather than by the injured persons whoa are powerless to protect themselves. 

            Based on the articles that I have read about this topic, it would seem that this principle on strict liability is a relatively new concept.  Before, the bases for liability are the breach of warranty and the negligence on the part of the manufacturers.  It can be stated that there has been significant improvement in torts law insofar as the protection of the consumers is concerned.  

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            One reason for this is that if liability on the part of manufacturers will be predicated on breach of warranty then manufacturers may still escape liability by alleging privity of contracts.  This is the principle which states that a contract will only confer rights or impose obligations arising under it to those who are parties to it.  Stated in the negative, a person who is not a party to a contract cannot sue in court.  Thus, this means that only the buyer of a defective product may sue in court for breach of warranty.  If the product was borrowed by a relative or donated to another and in the course of such use he was injured, he still cannot file a suit because he is not privy to the contract between the buyer and the seller. 

            In addition, manufacturers of defective products may still escape liability by alleging the failure of the plaintiff to give notice of the breach of warranty within a reasonable time pursuant to Section 1769 of the Civil Code which provides that: "In the absence of express or implied agreement of the parties, acceptance of the goods by the buyer shall not discharge the seller from liability in damages or other legal remedy for breach of any promise or warranty in the contract to sell or the sale. But, if, after acceptance of the goods, the buyer fails to give notice to the seller of the breach of any promise or warranty within a reasonable time after the buyer knows, or ought to know of such breach, the seller shall not be liable therefore.”  This means that if the plaintiff fails to inform the manufacturer of the defective product within a reasonable after he discovers or ought to discover such defect then the manufacturer shall not be held liable. 

            On the other hand, if liability on the part of the manufacturer will be predicated on his negligence then the plaintiff in case he is injured by reason of the manufacturer’s defective products has to prove the following before he can recover: a) the damage or injury on his part; b) the negligence of the manufacturer; c) and the causal relationship between the negligence and the damage.  Proving injury is relatively easy because the consumer only has to present the medical records or the loss of income on his part.  The difficult part is proving negligence on the part of the manufacturer.  In the first place, the plaintiff may have to contend against a manufacturer which has all the necessary resources to defend itself against suits while the plaintiff may not even have the necessary resources to hire himself a decent lawyer.  In the second place, the presence of negligence is quite difficult to prove.  Most of the time, the consumers are not able to recover from these manufacturers not because they do not have a valid claim against them but because the manufacturers are able to escape liability. 

            Right now, the concept of strict liability has tilted the battle in favor of the consumers who often become prey or victims to manufacturers.  One of these cases confirming strict liability of manufacturers is Carlin v. Supreme Court [56 Cal. Rptr. 2d 162 (1996)]. (Bruce A. Finzen, 1997, p.1) Under this concept, privity of contract between the plaintiff and the manufacturer is not required.  It is also not necessary for the plaintiff to give notice to the manufacturer of his defective product within a reasonable time as a prerequisite to filing suits against these manufacturers.  It is also not necessary for the plaintiff to even allege in his pleadings that the manufacturer was guilty of negligence in his products because even if the manufacturer is able to prove that they took the necessary precaution they can still be held liable.    

            Thus, negligence and breach of warranty are no longer the only bases for liability for the plaintiff to claim damages from the manufacturer.  The tort law now is that a manufacturer incurs liability when a product which he placed on the market proves to have defect that causes injury to a human being.  The principle behind the concept of strict of liability is the necessity to fix the liability of responsible persons in case defective products reach the market.  As between the manufacturers and the consumers it should be the former which should bear the responsibility since it is evident that the manufacturer has the needed resources to anticipate some hazards and guard against the recurrence of these hazards.  On the other hand, the public cannot.  Most the time consumers are not prepared to meet the consequences of injury arising from defective products.  Indeed, it is a serious misfortune for a consumer who is damaged by the defective product since it entails expenses, loss of time and health. 

            In addition, it will be to the interest to the public to hold these manufacturers strictly liable for the defects in their products so as to discourage the marketing of defective products that are a serious menace to the public. 

            There are other known reasons for imposition of strict liability on the manufacturers of defective products.  The first is that the consumers find it too difficult to prove negligence against the manufacturer.  It bears stressing that manufacturers of products are more often than not multi-national companies with billions of dollars for their capitalization.  They definitely have the edge insofar as financial and legal resources are concerned in case of litigations.  Indeed there is an uneven battle in case the consumers decide to file a suit against the manufacturer.  Second, imposing strict liability against the manufacturers provides an effective and necessary incentive to them to make their products as safe as possible. It bears stressing that litigations arising from defective products are not only costly for manufacturers financially but also damaging to their goodwill and reputation.  It bears stressing that for a company a suit filed by any of its consumers will definitely affect its reputation in the business.  Thus, imposing this liability will encourage them even more to take extra precaution before a product is released in the market.  Third, the concept of res ipsa loquitur applies which means that liability is imposed on the manufacturer even if he has not committed any negligence.  As already mentioned, negligence is not an essential element in strict liability suits.  A person who is injured for defective products may still recover even if the manufacturer successfully proves due diligence on their part before a product is placed on the market.  Fourth, as between the manufacturers and the consumers, it is the former which is in a better position to protect itself against harm.  On the part of the consumers injury caused by the defective products may be a serious loss for him since it may entail loss of income and loss of health whereas on the part of the manufacturer they can easily shift the burden for such harm by insuring against liability for these products and by adding the cost of the insurance to the price of the product.  

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