Product Liability — What Is It and How Does It Work?

Coffee Spilling from To-Go CupMany of us have at least heard the phrase “products liability.” Unfortunately, many of us have also heard tidbits of what we believe to be the “facts” of the “McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case.”

In reality, most of us do not really understand products liability or know what really happened in that hot coffee case. For anyone interested in learning the facts of that, there is an excellent documentary entitled Hot Coffee.

Not Every Injury that Occurs from a Product is Worthy of a Lawsuit

First, for the most part, without a horrific and permanent injury, the costs of a product liability case will far outweigh any recovery, since damages drive the amount recovered.

For example, if you are involved in a front-end auto crash and your airbags do not deploy but you walk away uninjured, there would be no point to a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the vehicle or the airbags. Your possible damages caused by the un-deployed air bag — which could have been pain or disfigurement from injuries, costs of medical treatment, loss of ability to work, etc. — are minimal.

You can only recover for actual injuries, rather than injuries you might have sustained.

Second, you can be injured by a product in a way that doesn't imply its manufacturer or seller is at fault. Say you use a frying pan and touch it inadvertently and burn yourself. You do not have a cause of action because it is logically assumed you understand a hot pan should not be touched.

Do You Have a Case?

But, if you have been seriously injured and a product is to blame, you may have a case. Below I'll review Illinois product liability law and some of the tricky aspects of these cases. Because product injury cases are complex and require expensive expert analysis, your best bet will always be to start by talking to a lawyer with experience in products liability cases who offers a free consultation to discuss your case.

Illinois Product Liability Law

Illinois law is straightforward for products cases. There is a disclosure required of the proper manufacturer pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/2-621. You cannot just sue anyone you feel like.

A lawsuit for products liability can be based upon either negligence or strict liability. In most cases, these two theories are pled as alternate options.


Under negligence theory, the injured person has to prove:

  • The manufacturer or seller had a duty of care to the injured person,
  • The manufacturer or seller breached that duty of care, and
  • That breach caused injury or damages that were …
  • Foreseeable and caused by that breach

Strict Liability

Strict liability is different. Illinois law provides that the plaintiff can sue the manufacturer, seller, or other entity that distributed a product under a strict liability standard by proving that:

  • The injury resulted from a defect or condition of the product,
  • That the defect or condition was an unreasonably dangerous one, and
  • That the condition or defect existed when it left the manufacturer’s control

(Coney v. J.L.G. Indus., 97 Ill.2d 104, 111, 454 N.E.2d 197, 200 (1983).)

The essential gist of any products liability case is that the manufacturer created a product that caused damage, malfunctioned, was poorly designed so as to cause injury, or was known to be flawed.

There are numerous examples of these types of cases.

Example: Defective Airbag Lawsuits

An easy example would be an airbag that fails to inflate, inflates when there is not a crash, or inflates too powerfully. The Takata air bag mess is exactly that type of case. The air bags often exploded into drivers and passengers, resulting in death in dozens of cases. The Takata company knew of this defect, yet failed to take appropriate action. Accordingly, there are multiple existing lawsuits against the company.

The Realities of a Products Liability Lawsuit

Often, products cases begin with a person getting injured seriously, and possibly even losing their life due to a defective product. But that does not mean that the person or their estate will receive compensation from the manufacturer. These cases are very complex and the manufactures are aware that if they pay to settle one case, there may be several thousand more plaintiffs with similar injuries who will find out and want to be paid to settle, too.

Therefore, manufacturers do not settle them, certainly not directly with the injured consumer.

Instead, the first thing a competent plaintiff’s lawyer will do is hire an expert in that type of product to inspect the product as soon as possible. Often, a court order is required to keep the manufacturer form altering or destroying the allegedly dangerous product and for the expert to inspect it.

Experts are not inexpensive. You can expect paying an expert upwards of $500 or more an hour for every bit of work they perform. So before you even think you might have a viable case, you have spent $10,000. This is why only certain attorneys are experienced and well-funded enough to be able to take on such cases.

Often, as with the Takata air bag cases, there are literally thousands of similar injuries from similar incidents involving the product. A class action lawsuit is often appropriate for these mass torts.

If the injured plaintiff’s side has to spend all that money, you can bet the manufacturer is spending at least that much or more.

Again, these are not cases the consumer can handle him- or herself.

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, immediately get medical treatment and contact a personal injury lawyer.

If you've been injured by a product and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience including Illinois product liability cases and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles injury cases on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.

Categories: Product Liability