When you've been injured by a defective product, it may be hard to know where to turn. Should you simply try to return the product for the money you initially paid for it, taking on the cost of medical care for your injuries by yourself? Should you sue? In South Carolina, those who have been injured or made ill due to defective products they purchased have the ability to bring a products liability claim to court.
Let's take a look at the basics of defective product liability in South Carolina, what you'll need to do to prove your claim, and what steps you should take in the event of injury or illness in this situation.
South Carolina's Defective Products Statutes
All types of products liability claims require that the user prove that the user was 1) injured by the product, 2) that the product was in essentially the same condition as it was when it left the hands of the manufacturer, and 3) that the product was in an unreasonably dangerous defective condition.
1.The plaintiff was injured by the product. This does not necessarily have to be a severe injury like a broken arm or a wound that requires surgery or stitches. An illness that was caused directly by the defective product counts as an injury under the law, too. However, you must prove that it was the defective product that caused the injury or illness.
If there is any doubt as to whether or not the product was responsible, you may have some difficulty proving your claim.
You must also prove the injury occurred because the product was defective. If you were injured by a product that was not defective, you may still be able to bring a claim and file for compensation and other damages, but the defective product liability laws wouldn't apply — it would be a more general personal injury case. In this case, you will need to prove that the product was defective when you purchased/received it and was therefore unreasonably dangerous for you to use.
2. You'll need to prove that the product was in the same condition when it injured you as it was when you first purchased or received it from the other party. For instance, if you purchased an ATV and made significant modifications before being injured while riding it, the injury may turn out to be caused by your modifications and not anything to do with either the person who sold it to you or the manufacturer.
However, if you purchased an ATV, made no modifications, were operating it safely and within legal restrictions, and were injured due to serious malfunctions you were not aware of, the defective products liability law in South Carolina may hold the manufacturer responsible.
3. Finally, you'll need to prove that the product was unreasonably dangerous defective condition. The standard for "unreasonably dangerous" is slightly different depending on the type of claim the user is pursuing.
A manufacturing defect case is the most basic type of products liability claim and means that that the product had a defect, flaw, or irregularity arising from errors in the production of the product. The test for these types of cases is whether the product is or is not defective is whether the product is unreasonably dangerous to the consumer or user given the conditions and cirucmstances that foreseeably attend use of the product." Stated another way, does the product meet the reasonable expectations of consumers. This test is called the consumer expectations test.
A design defect claim is focused on whether the product was unreasonably dangerous in the way that it was designed. To be successful in these sorts of claims the user of the product must show that there is an alternative design that would have prevented the product from being unreasonably dangerous, and that the presentation of an alternative design must include considerations of the costs, safety, and functionality associated with the alternative design. This test is called the risk-utility test.
Failure to Warn
A failure to warn claim is based upon the theory that the product failed to provide a warning to the user or that the warning provided was inadequate. The user has the burden of showing that a different and adequate warning would have made a difference in the conduct of the person warned.
You'll also need to prove that the seller was either negligent or sold you a defective product knowingly. How can you do that when you can't know what the mindset of the defendant was during the transaction? Essentially, by proving that the defect was one that the defendant knew about and failed to disclose, or that they did not exercise due care in finding out if anything about the product was defective.
To use our earlier ATV example, it would mean either the seller knew the ATV was defective and did not tell you or they simply did not attempt to find out whether it was safe to operate before selling it.
Are you hoping to file suit against the manufacturer of the product rather than the person who sold it to you directly? You'll need to prove in your claim that the manufacturer breached its duty to you, the plaintiff, to exercise "reasonable care to adopt a safe design".
Is There a Statute of Limitations in Defective Product Liability?
There is no statute of limitations specific to products liability in South Carolina. The statute of limitations is essentially the same as in any personal injury or wrongful death statute — three years for causes of action (the event of the injury) arising on or before April 5th, 1988 (S.C. Code Ann. 25-3-530, 535, and 545).
For a breach of warranty action, the limitation is six years. We suggest taking action as soon as possible after you are aware that the injury or illness was due to the defective product.
In the case of most injuries, you'll know right away — in the case of certain illnesses it may take time before you realize what the cause of your illness truly was. The date of discovery (the injury itself or the time you became reasonably aware of the cause of your illness or injury) is the biggest factor the courts will want to determine when to start the statute of limitations.
As soon as you are aware that a defective product caused injuries or illness, contact a legal representative to discuss your options.
Injured By a Defective Product? Here's What to Do:
Seek medical care immediately. We cannot emphasize this enough, and you'll notice that this suggestion often comes up in our blogs. Deferring treatment or choosing not to seek medical care makes it more difficult to prove your claim, but it also increases your risk of serious injury or illness, as many seemingly minor issues may turn out to be far more serious or become more serious if not treated promptly.
Seek medical care as soon as possible, and ask for copies of all your treatment records to be given to you during your appointment. We recommend asking for two copies, if possible — one to share with your legal representative and one to keep for your own records at home.
Speak with a legal representative. While we list this suggestion after calling the manufacturer, it's actually something that it may be best to do on the same day, if possible.
Ideally, a legal representative will be able to speak with you about your unique situation, how you were injured or made ill by a defective product, and let you know what options you may have. Bring any documentation regarding medical care or treatment needed, the receipt of purchase for the defective product if you have it, and any paperwork that will help you to prove negligence on the part of the at-fault party.
Remember — Not Every Situation Goes to Court
Many clients injured by defective products are concerned about having to "take a case to court," worried that the costs will be more than the end benefit of receiving the compensation they are due. Not all litigation ends in court — in fact, most litigation takes place outside the courtroom. Your legal representative may be able to negotiate on your behalf and find a compensation amount or conclusion that is satisfactory for all parties without ever having to step foot in a courtroom.
Injured by a Defective Product in South Carolina? We're Here to Help.
At BNTD Law, we have experience helping our clients with defective product liability claims, and would be happy to speak with you regarding your personal injury case. Our offices are located in Columbia, South Carolina, and have helped clients within South Carolina and beyond. Reach us by phone at (803) 779-7599 or contact us online at any time to request your FREE consultation today!