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Who is Liable in a California Product Liability Case?

As consumers, we expect products on store shelves to be safe. Yet, dangerous and defective toys alone caused an estimated 251,800 child injuries in 2014, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Through product liability lawsuits, injury victims and their families can hold companies accountable and seek compensation for their losses. To increase the likelihood of achieving full recovery, plaintiffs can pursue legal action against all of the parties in the chain of distribution, including the manufacturer, distributor and retailer.

Potential defendants

In many product liability cases, personal injury lawyers rely on the doctrine of strict liability. Plaintiffs need only prove that they were injured by a defect in the product and that the product was defective when it left the hands of the retailer or manufacturer. The doctrine also allows plaintiffs to pursue claims against any party in the chain of distribution, including:

  • Manufacturers: Responsible parties may not only include the company that physically made the defective product, but also design consultants, quality control engineers, parts suppliers and other entities that participated in how the product was made, designed or labeled.
  • Distributors: Several companies often play a part in getting the product from the manufacturer to the seller. Under the doctrine of strict liability, they can be named as defendants simply by virtue of their participation in the supply chain.
  • Retailers: Plaintiffs can even hold “innocent sellers” liable for injuries caused by defective products. The plaintiff also does not have to be the person that made the actual purchase, such as when the product was a gift.

Joint and several liability

Under the doctrine of joint and several liability, defendants can be held either individually or mutually responsible for any judgment rendered if they all contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. That means that the plaintiff can collect from whomever is able to pay. For instance, if one defendant is not able to pay its share of the judgment, the other defendants must essentially “pick up the tab.” The plaintiff can also recover the entire judgment from just one defendant.

In California, joint and several liability does not extend to non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1431.2: “In any action for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death, based upon principles of comparative fault, the liability of each defendant for non-economic damages shall be several only and shall not be joint. Each defendant shall be liable only for the amount of non-economic damages allocated to that defendant in direct proportion to that defendant’s percentage of fault, and a separate judgment shall be rendered against that defendant for that amount.”

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a dangerous product, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego injury lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation. Our legal team has successfully represented clients against manufacturers and distributors for more than 30 years.