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An Overview on torts or personal injury law,
damages, and product liability law.
TORTS AND PERSONAL INJURY LAW
Torts are civil wrongs recognized by law as grounds for a lawsuit.
These wrongs result in an injury or harm constituting the basis
for a claim by the injured party. While some torts are also crimes
punishable with imprisonment, the primary aim of tort law is to
provide relief for the damages incurred and deter others from
committing the same harms. The injured person may sue for an injunction
to prevent the continuation of the tortious conduct or for monetary
damages. Among the types of damages the injured party may recover
are: loss of earnings capacity, pain and suffering, and reasonable
medical expenses. They include both present and future expected
There are numerous specific torts including trespass, assault,
battery, negligence, products liability, and intentional infliction
of emotional distress. Torts fall into three general categories:
intentional torts (e.g., intentionally hitting a person); negligent
torts (causing an accident by failing to obey traffic rules);
and strict liability torts (e.g., liability for making and selling
defective products.) Intentional torts are those wrongs which
the defendant knew or should have known would occur through their
actions or inactions. Negligent torts occur when the defendant's
actions were unreasonably unsafe. Strict liability wrongs do not
depend on the degree of carefulness by the defendant, but are
established when a particular action causes damage.
Tort law is state law created through judges (common law) and
by legislatures (statutory law). Many judges and states utilize
the Restatement of Torts (2nd) as an influential guide. The Restatement
is a publication prepared by the American Law Institute whose
aim is to present an orderly statement of the general law of the
Damages, in a legal sense, is the sum of money the law imposes
for a breach of some duty or violation of some right. Generally,
there are two types of damages : compensatory and punitive. (The
term "damages" typically includes both categories, but
the term, "actual damages" is synonymous with compensatory
damages, and excludes punitive damages.)
Compensatory damages, like the name suggests, are intended to
compensate the injured party for his loss or injury. Punitive
damages are awarded to punish a wrongdoer. There are other modifying
terms placed in front of the word damages like "liquidated
damages," (contractually established damages) and "nominal
damages" (where the court awards a nominal amount such as
one dollar). For certain types of injuries statutes provide that
successful parties should receive some multiple of their "actual
damages" -- e.g., treble damages.
There are general principles governing what types of damages
are awarded. Itt is generally recognized, for instance, that punitive
damages are not available for breaches of contract except when
it is proven that the breach was wanton, willful and deliberate.
PRODUCTS LIABILITY LAW
Products liability refers to the liability of any or all parties
along the chain of manufacture of any product for damage caused
by that product. This includes the manufacturer of component parts
(at the top of the chain), an assembling manufacturer, the wholesaler,
and the retail store owner (at the bottom of the chain). Products
containing inherent defects that cause harm to a consumer of the
product, or someone to whom the product was loaned, given, etc.,
are the subjects of products liability suits. While products are
generally thought of as tangible personal property, products liability
has stretched that definition to include intangibles (gas), naturals
(pets), real estate (house), and writings (navigational charts).
Products liability claims can be based on negligence, strict
liability, or breach of warranty of fitness depending on the jurisdiction
within which the claim is based. Many states have enacted comprehensive
products liability statutes. These statutory provisions can be
very diverse such that the the United States Department of Commerce
has promulgated a Model Uniform Products Liability Act (MUPLA)
for voluntary use by the states. There is no federal products
In any jurisdiction one must prove that the product is defective.
There are three types of product defects that incur liability
in manufacturers and suppliers: design defects, manufacturing
defects, and defects in marketing. Design defects are inherent;
they exist before the product is manufactured. While the item
might serve its purpose well, it can be unreasonably dangerous
to use due to a design flaw. On the other hand, manufacturing
defects occur during the construction or production of the item.
Only a few out of many products of the same type are flawed in
this case. Defects in marketing deal with improper instructions
and failures to warn consumers of latent dangers in the product.
Products Liability is generally considered a strict liability
offense. Strict liability wrongs do not depend on the degree of
carefulness by the defendant. Translated to products liability
terms, a defendant is liable when it is shown that the product
is defective. It is irrelevant whether the manufacturer or supplier
exercised great care; if there is a defect in the product that
causes harm, he or she will be liable for it.
The law of products liability is found mainly in common law (state
judge-made law) and in the Uniform Commercial Code. Article 2
of the UCC deals with the sales of goods and it has been adopted
by most states. In it, the most important products liability sections
are the implied and express warranties of merchantibility in the
sales of goods §§ 2-314 and 2-315. Products liability
is derived mainly from Torts law.
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