A product defect is a legal term for a product that does not operate or perform as it was advertised to, or according to its original purpose. An example would be the airbags on a vehicle failing to deploy upon impact. Any product defect can be extremely dangerous to the health and/or safety of the consumer. Section 2 of the third restatement of torts distinguishes three major kinds of possible liability claims:
Design defects are flaws in the engineering of the product. If a product is designed to protect the user, but fails to accomplish this because of poor engineering ideas, the product could be said to have a design defect. A simple, hypothetical example of this would be a bicycle helmet made out of glass. The helmet was originally designed to protect the user’s head from falling objects, or if the person were to fall and strike their head on the ground. In either of these cases the glass helmet would shatter, possibly cutting the person’s head, and leaving their head exposed to other potential dangers. This would be classified as a design defect, because the original design does not accomplish the task of protecting the wearer’s head.
Manufacturing defects are flaws in the building or assembly of the product, or any of the parts used in the product. A hypothetical example of this would be if a company was to design a helmet made out of plastic, but the manufacturers negligently made it out of glass. Other parties involved that could contribute to a manufacturing defect are those that fabricated the plastic intended for the helmet. If the manufacturers did make the helmet out of the plastic requested by the designer, but the company that fabricated the plastic accidently used glass, this would result in a manufacturing defect because the product does not provide the protection it is intended to, due to the negligence of the manufacturer. The helmet would have provided the protection it was intended to if it had been made according to the design.
Marketing defects occur when a description or advertisement of the product promises a service that the product does not actually provide. A hypothetical example of a marketing defect would be if a company designs a bicycle helmet to be made out of plastic, and the manufacturers build the helmet to the specifications of the design, but in a television commercial or on the packaging of the helmet, the consumer is promised that the helmet is indestructible. When the helmet is shot by a gun, or run over by a truck, because it is actually made of plastic, it will not stop the bullet, nor withstand the weight of the truck according to the promise made. Those at fault are the marketers and advertisers for the product because they are the ones who promised that this product is bulletproof, because of their error, this would be considered a marketing defect.
Failure to warn is any potential hazard that is left out of a caution or warning portion in the description of a product, or the lack of a warning label at all. For example, a cigarette package that says the product may cause lung cancer but fails to mention that it can also cause mouth disease, is considered failure to warn. Or, if you are served a fresh brewed cup of coffee at a drive through coffee shop, and the cup you are given, containing the hot coffee, does not inform you that the contents are extremely hot. Because there is an incomplete notice, or complete absence of a warning, this would be considered a marketing defect because of its failure to warn.
We as consumers expect excellence in the products we purchase or use, and usually this is what we receive. Due to the safety measures taken, the testing and the precise scrutiny of careful designers, manufacturers and marketers, we have become expectant of defect free products, and intolerant of anything sub-par. Because we are so used to excellent products, when a defective product does find its way into the market, we are generally unprepared and unaware of the potential threat.
You expect the brakes in your new car to function correctly as per their definition, however if they were to be defective and not stop the car as you expected them to, this would now be a life threatening situation. If your fire extinguisher did not help to put out a fire as it was intended, a life threatening circumstance instantly becomes much more dangerous due to a defective product. There are many situations where a product you need may be defective and this can greatly inconvenience you, or in some cases, put your life in danger.