Every day the Food and Drug Administration receives voluntary recalls from companies. Consumers have the option to sign up on their website to receive email alerts about product recalls. So, why would a company voluntarily recall a product? If no one has reported a problem, why would the company go out of its way to worry? The answer is product liability.
Product Liability: An Overview
Product liability is the legal liability that manufacturers and sellers have to buyers, users, and sometimes bystanders for damages or injuries that occur because of defects in their product. There are three categories of defects.
The first category of defect is a manufacturing defect. In simple terms, something went wrong when the product was made. A current example is Campbells. On December 31, 2013 they recalled 300 cases of their Prego® Traditional Italian Sauce that was shipped to seven states. They found potential spoilage while conducting routine quality control tests. They urged those who bought this product in those specific states not to eat it. More information on this recall can be found on the FDA website.
The second category of defect is a design defect. Basically, the product adheres to their design, but the design itself is defective. The flaw from the inception of the design makes every product of that design dangerous. An example of design defect can be seen in the recent lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart by William Freis. His wife carried plastic bags out of the store that he alleges were overfilled. One of the bags ripped. A large can smashed Mrs. Freis’ toe; that resulted in a broken toe and a laceration. Sadly, she developed an infection and later died. Mr. Freis alleges wrongful death and design defect of the plastic bags. The manufacturer has not issued a recall on their plastic bags.
The third category of defect is a warning defect. The instructions or warnings that come with a product are lacking or non-existent. Not every product requires a warning label. A product must be seen as having a danger. In 2012, a U.S. Appeals Court struck down an FDA tobacco warning label requirement. These labels were very graphic. The Court’s opinion was that the government lacked authority to force a manufacturer to include a warning that goes beyond factual and actual disclosures. It also held that the FDA could not show that these particular warnings would “directly advance” a decrease in the number of Americans who smoke.
Reasons for Recalls
Companies voluntarily recall their products for many reasons. Voluntary recalls protect consumer health, help companies comply with the law, and helps their company maintain a good reputation. They have a higher standard of care to meet when it comes to liability. This standard of care is called strict liability. It does not matter if they did not want or mean for anyone to be injured by their faulty product. It does not necessarily matter why the product was defective. They are most often still liable for the injuries or losses suffered because of their product.
Robin is a legal blogger for The McMinn Law Firm, a personal injury and business firm in Austin, Texas. Robin has seen plenty of recall announcements from well know food and drug manufacturers.