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Strict Liability in Products Liability Cases in Florida

The Law Offices of Michael D. Stewart

Generally in Florida, Strict Liability seeks to hold one liable without regard to fault. In products liability, the manufacturer, distributor and retailer of a product which is defective can be held liable for injuries caused by that product without respect to fault on behalf of the companies. It must be proven that the defect existed in the product for each of the companies throughout the distribution chain when the product left their control.

In order to hold a company or companies in the distribution chain liable under a theory of strict liability in a manufacturing defect lawsuit, it must be proven:

  1. the manufacturer or other company’s relationship to the product,
  2. a defect in the product and the defect causes an unreasonably dangerous condition,
  3. the defect was the cause of the user’s injuries.

A product can be considered defective:

  • because of a design defect,
  • a manufacturing defect,
  • or an inadequate warning on a product.

With respect to failure to warn, negligence is not necessary. Indeed, manufacturers are held to a higher standard than under a negligence case (duty, breach of the duty, cause of injury, damages). Florida states that it needs only be shown that the defendant did not adequately warn of known or knowable dangers. A product is said to be defective “when the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the provision of reasonable instructions or warnings”, and that by not providing the warnings “renders the product not reasonably safe”. Scheman-Gonzalez v. Saber Mfg. Co., 816 So.2d 1133, 1139 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002). As to the failure to warn in the distribution chain, Union Carbide Corp. v. Kavanaugh, 879 So.2d 42, 45 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004) looks at:

  1. the danger of the product,
  2. how the product is used and/or intended to be used,
  3. the sufficiency of the warnings given,
  4. a cost benefits analysis to the company for giving the warnings
  5. the likelihood that the warnings will reach the foreseeable user of the product.

Note that public policy does hold that if the defect is so obvious, the manufacturer cannot be held liable. Further, in Florida, there is no cause of action for negligent distribution of a non-defective gun.

Also, even in the context of strict liability, comparative negligence of the consumer may kick in if the consumer failed to use normal care in the handling of the product.

Strict liability can be a powerful weapon in a products liability case as the plaintiff only need show that a product was defective and caused injury and that the defendant is responsible. Further, all companies in the distribution chain can be sued providing for increased ability to recover damages for the plaintiff. Further, in certain cases if it can be shown that the defendant know about the defect and failed to take action to warn of the defect or to protect the consumer from the defect by taking corrective action, punitive damages could be available to the plaintiff.