What if the food you served your family was infected with bacteria that made you so ill that you had to be hospitalized? What if a medication a doctor prescribed had such serious side effects that a loved one died from them? What if that toy you gave your child contained toxic lead, mercury, or even gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), a chemical better known as the “date rape drug”?
Do you know your legal rights as a consumer?
Did you know that opting for cheaper generic medications can cost you your rights? Patients injured by generic pharmaceuticals can’t sue either the generic or the name-brand manufacturer – both are protected, while consumers are not. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
We’re all consumers. We purchase food, prescription and over-the-counter medications, furniture and appliances for our homes, toys for our children, and vehicles to use for transportation. Though we come into contact with an array of these items literally every moment of our lives, too many consumers remain unaware of their rights and the restrictions on those rights – not to mention the dangers a defective product can pose. While many groups are promoting ways to avoid scams in observance of National Consumer Protection Week 2015 (March 1-7), we’re doing things a little differently here at Console & Hollawell.
Here’s your crash course on understanding your consumer rights when it comes to dangerous consumer products – because you can’t afford not to know what you’re entitled to if an injury occurs.
Product Liability Claims
In the world of personal injury law, we call cases involving defective consumer goods “product liability claims.” In cases where a product caused an accident or serious injuries, you have the right to hold manufacturers responsible. Companies can’t just shrug off injuries as part of the adage “buyer beware.” They have a legal responsibility not to put unsafe products that could unexpectedly harm the public on the market.
Unsafe or dangerously defective products can take many forms, and they can harm people of all ages. Medical devices like metal hip implants can wear down and shed metal debris inside the body, damaging muscle tissue and requiring doctors to redo the hip replacement surgery. Magnetic toys can rip through children’s intestines if swallowed, causing fatal internal injuries. Long-term use of denture creams can lead to such extensive zinc poisoning that victims can wind up in wheelchairs, no longer able to walk. Furnaces can cause severe burns. Defects in car ignition systems or airbags can result in deadly collisions.
What to Do If You’ve Been Hurt
Don’t expect to get the settlement you deserve from the manufacturer of a hazardous product without a fight. It’s not as simple as writing a letter and getting a check in the mail.
You’ll need an attorney on your side to gather evidence and build a compelling case that shows that the consumer product in question was dangerous and caused your injuries. Because companies aren’t eager to hand out money – in fact, cutting corners in product design and assembly is sometimes the reason the danger exists in the first place – you’ll also need a lawyer willing to stand up to the company’s insurers and legal team to make sure you get all the money you deserve.
Don’t Depend on the Recall Process to Keep You Safe
When you purchase a car, you must register it with the Motor Vehicle Commission. If you make a large purchase, like a household appliance, you might keep the paperwork and register the item with the manufacturer so that if you experience any problems, you can take advantage of the warranty.
What about small, everyday purchases – things like a bag of lettuce at the grocery store, a ceiling fan, a new toy for your child, or a bottle of over-the-counter painkillers? You probably didn’t even save the receipt for very long, and you certainly can’t expect to get a recall notice in the mail.
Yet these small items can have big consequences. Produce infected with E.coli can send you to the hospital. In defective ceiling fans, blades can separate from the fixture and fall, striking bystanders. Children have died from ingesting toxic chemicals or heavy-duty magnets from toys, and they have lost fingertips to nibbling dolls. Certain batches of over-the-counter medications have been recalled when it came to light that chemicals that could cause nausea and vomiting had found their way into the pills.
These are all pretty serious dangers. Yet if you had these unexpectedly dangerous products in your home, the only way you would have known about the risk they posed was if you happened to see them mentioned in a news story. Sheer luck isn’t enough to protect our families – there must be a better way.
Consumers Have Limited Options – Until An Injury Happens
What’s sad is that close calls are often not enough to get dangerous products off of the market. Often, someone needs to get hurt first – and sometimes, several people.
Besides the problem of consumers actually learning about recalls that affect them – and learning about the severity of the risk – another problem with the recall process is how long it takes a company to recall a dangerous product. Companies are often reluctant to spend the money to recall a product, even after they know it could be dangerous. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s a question of numbers. On average, the cost of issuing a recall is twice the payout of the average product litigation settlement – so for companies, it comes down to a simple gamble: are there likely to be three or more large lawsuits over injuries caused by the item? If not, they may decide that it’s cheaper to let people get hurt than to recall the dangerous product.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much we consumers can do to protect ourselves and prevent a serious mishap with a dangerous product. We can trust our gut instincts if we ever think that a food, household, or electronic item seems less than safe, and stop using that product immediately. We can try to avoid generic medications, though that’s not always an easy thing to do in the current healthcare system. We can keep tabs on the latest recalls by visiting http://www.recalls.gov. When it comes to accidents that we can’t prevent, knowing that we have the right to hold manufacturers accountable for the harm their products cause, and knowing the first, necessary steps to doing so, could mean the difference between continuing to suffer alone and getting the justice and compensation your family deserves. Knowledge is power, even if you hope you never need to use this particular knowledge.