The state of California pioneered strict product liability legislation in the 1960s, and since then, the idea has spread throughout the United States. The frequency of automobile recalls has been a major consequence of this legislation. The relationship between product liability law and automobile recalls is not as straightforward as it might seem, however.

California Strict Product Liability in a Nutshell

Under California strict product liability law, the manufacturer of a product (an automobile or an automobile part, for example) acts as an insurer of the safety of that product if it contains a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or inadequate product warnings. Anyone injured by a defective product can win a product liability personal injury lawsuit against the manufacturer without proving that the manufacturer was negligent or at fault in any way. This liability extends to any actor in the stream of distribution of the product, including wholesale and retail distributors.

How Recalls Work

A recall occurs when the manufacturer discovers that a product it manufactured contains defects that might make the product unsafe to use – a gas tank that easily explodes upon rear-end impact, for example. The manufacturer might discover the defect on its own, or a defect may be discovered by the Food and Drug Administration or the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Once a recall is issued, the manufacturer will issue a detailed notice of the recall and the reasons for it to all parties in the product’s chain of distribution. It will also alert the media and attempt to directly notify all known purchasers through various means. The manufacturer typically offers to repair, replace, or refund the value of the defective product..   

Does a Recall Establish Manufacturer Liability?

Suppose that a consumer is injured by a defective auto part that has already been recalled, and he then proceeds to file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. Is the fact that the product had already been recalled enough to prove that the product was defective in the first place? In a nutshell, the answer is, “no.” The consumer must still prove that the product was defective. The fact that a recall was issued, however, can be used as evidence in his favor.

Does Issuing a Recall Shield a Manufacturer from Liability?

You might think that a recall is simply a clever way of allowing a manufacturer to shield itself from liability once it has already sold a product. This is not necessarily true, although the issuance of a recall can help a manufacturer avoid liability.

To avoid liability that would otherwise be imposed, the manufacturer must prove that adequate notice of the recall was issued directly to the injured plaintiff (not just to a media outlet), and that the plaintiff ignored it and continued using the product. Even then, the manufacturer is not assured of winning a product liability claim against it.

Let Us Help You Fight Back

If you are the subject of an automobile-related, product liability claim, or if you anticipate this scenario, call CKB Vienna today or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. We serve clients in Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Riverside County.