What is product liability under the Consumer Protection Act?

If a product causes injuries, the makers, distributors, suppliers, and retailers can be held legally responsible for product liability.

If any part of a product is defective, its manufacturer may be held liable for any resulting damage, regardless of contractual agreements that limit liability.

Court action for breach of the CPA or negligence can be taken for death, personal injury, and damage to private property resulting from a product defect. Neither type of action can provide compensation for losses that are purely economic or consequential.

The following guide will discuss how to file a claim if you believe you have received a defective product according to the Consumer Protection Act.

The potential financial repercussions of not following Part I of the CPA.

The CPA introduced statutory liability for defective products. This means that individuals can pursue a claim against a company even if the company was not negligent in causing the damage. In some cases, this may allow an individual to succeed where they would not have been able to under common law.

The CPA not only applies to products regularly used by consumers, but also to those within a work setting. The act enforces liability on manufacturers for any damage done by their defective merchandise. Essentially, this allows people who were hurt by these items to seek reimbursement without having to illustrate that the company was careless. It is simply required to show that the product malfunctioned and that it probably led to whatever injury or harm occurred.

For more on product liability see this guide from Pinsent Mason.

How this applies to you

The CPA applies to sales of all consumer products, as well as those used in a workplace, whether the sale is between businesses or direct to consumers.

A claim may be brought under the CPA by any person who is injured by a ‘defective product’, regardless of whether that person purchased the product. A claim may be brought for death, personal injury, or damage to private property over £275. However, no claim may be brought for damage to business property or ‘pure’ economic losses. In particular, the CPA provides that a claim cannot be made for the loss of or damage to the defective product itself. Other than these restrictions, the CPA imposes no financial limit on the producer’s total liability.

To whom does the liability fall?

According to the CPA, anyone who creates a product is liable for any imperfections. The ‘producer’ in this case is the manufacturer of the completed item or of one of its components, or anyone involved with an industrial process that attributes essential characteristics to the product. Any party who promotes themselves as the producer through a name or trademark, as well as anyone who imported the product into the European Community, may be held liable.

Therefore, more than one person may be held accountable under the CPA for the same damage. Those liable are jointly and severally responsible, so the injured party can sue anyone or all of these people. Exclusion or limitation of liability is not possible.

What is a product classified as ‘defective’?

A ‘product’ encompasses goods, electricity, and anything that plays a part in the production of a final product. If one aspect of the manufacturing process is subpar, both the party at fault for inferior craftsmanship and the company that put out the finished product are liable.

A product is deemed defective under the CPA if it poses a safety hazard to people or property that goes beyond what consumers typically expect. For instance, a product may not be considered defective simply because a newer and safer version becomes available later on.

The court will examine all aspects of the product’s safety, such as:

  • All marketing strategies for the product.
  • any use of a mark related to the product.
  • instructions and warnings
  • what the customer could reasonably expect to do with the product when it was supplied.

The final factor the court considers is whether or not the ‘state of the art’ has changed since the product was supplied.

There are several ways to defend against a claim under the CPA.

A producer can use several defenses if they are liable under the CPA. For example:

  • defective products must be discarded to comply with domestic or European law.
  • if the party you are filing a claim against did not provide the product,
  • This product was not manufactured or supplied by a business.
  • the product was free of defects when it was released.
  • The party being sued is only liable if the defect is within the finished product, and it occurred because of either the design or instructions given by the manufacturer.

The CPA has a ‘development risks’ defense, which would protect the manufacturer if they can prove that, at the time the product was made, the scientific and technical knowledge wasn’t good enough for them to have discovered any potential defects. This is likely to be relevant for manufacturers of innovative or high-tech products. Some have argued that the UK law is not as strict as the European level when it comes to scientific and technical photography knowledge. The Europeans focus on what a producer of similar products should discover, while UK’s law focuses on the general state of photography knowledge.

How much time do producers have before they are no longer held responsible?

Claims under the CPA have a three-year limitation period from the date of damage or injury. However, if the damage is not immediately apparent, claimants have three years from the date when they knew or should reasonably have known about the claim. Additionally, since products may remain in circulation for many years, claims cannot be made more than 10 years after a product was put into circulation.

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