Every year, approximately 36 million people are injured and 34,000 people are killed by using everyday consumer products. This includes everything from falls off ladders to appliances that malfunction and catch fire. These are staggering numbers. While many of the injuries and deaths are the result of someone misusing a product, many also result from dangers built into the products themselves that could be prevented.
There is a concept in design engineering called the safety hierarchy. It is also called the hazard control hierarchy. It is supposed to govern decisions about how products are made, tested, and redesigned before they come to market and are used by the public. It is a set of checks to eliminate or drastically reduce the number of injuries and deaths associated with using a product. If a danger is found in a product, the hierarchy goes like this: 1. Design out the danger, 2. Guard against the danger, 3. Warn against the danger. Unfortunately, the hierarchy is not always followed.
Design out the danger
If a danger is discovered in a product, the first step a company should do is try to come up with an alternative design that eliminates the danger. If a vehicle is prone to roll over, the car maker should either widen the base of the vehicle or shift the weight of the vehicle to lower its center of gravity to prevent it from rolling over. If a household cleaner can catch fire, the chemical company should look for an alternative chemical to do the same job that is not flammable. Such design changes can often be done for little to no cost, though manufacturers will sometimes avoid making these changes because of neglect, because of cost, or because they feel like the product will not be as attractive to the consumer if it changed.
Guard against the danger
If the danger in a product cannot be designed out, then appropriate steps need to be taken to guard against the consumer coming into contact with the danger. If an alternative design is cost-prohibitive, or the nature of the product involves some element of danger, then steps need to be taken to protect the user. A lawn mower, for instance, must have blades turning at high speeds to cut the grass. These blades are dangerous if a person comes into contact with them, so the manufacturer must come up with a series of guards to prevent the user from being injured by the blades. The motor on a piece of equipment may get extremely hot, so a protective cage must be put around it to prevent accidental contact with the hot surface.
Manufacturers of inherently dangerous products can sometimes guard against obvious contacts with the dangerous parts of their products, but they either ignore or miss less obvious situations that may come up in using a product. An example of this would be lawn movers from several years ago. It wasn’t long ago that mowers had guards around the blades but did not have automatic cutoff switches to prevent someone from falling of the mower and being run over by the blades or have the blades accidentally switch on while working on the mower. Thankfully, now most mowers have a switch that cuts off the mower or the blades if someone is not sitting in the seat.
Warn against the danger
Only after the manufacturer has tried to design out all the dangers and guard against the dangers should a manufacturer result to warning against a danger. If a danger on a product cannot be eliminated by changing the design and cannot be guarded against with a protective device, then the manufacturer should clearly warn the user of the danger. Unfortunately, warnings have become a problem in design engineering for several reasons. First, many product makers skip the first two steps of trying to design out and protect against a danger and mover right to providing warnings, which are the least effective way to protect the public. Companies think fixes to dangers are either too expensive or will turn off consumers, so they leave the dangers in place and put warnings on the product.
For warnings to be effective, they must be taken seriously by the public. Too often products come with so many warnings that people don’t feel the need to read them all and ignore them. Or, the warnings are placed in a user manual that is thrown away or are placed in small print on a part of the product that people don’t often see.
The public gets hurt and many times killed because manufacturers of automobiles, machinery, appliances, and other products do not properly go through the safety hierarchy. The job of a good trial lawyer when evaluating an injury or death case related to a consumer product is to use experts to determine if there are alternative designs that are safer, if there are ways to guard against dangers that were not used, and to see if the warnings on a product were adequate to let the user know of the danger and be on the lookout for it. Unfortunately, too many times companies do not follow the safety hierarchy, and seriously injury and death can occur. Car rollovers can be prevented but aren’t, sharp edges can be guarded but aren’t, electrical hazards can be flagged and warned against clearly but aren’t.
When a death or an injury because of a dangerous product occurs, a good team of trial lawyers will have the experience and access to engineering experts to evaluate the case and hold the manufacturer of the product accountable. The product liability and injury lawyers at Jinks, Crow and Dickson, PC have years of experience helping injured clients and the families of deceased victims of dangerous products get justice for the harm they’ve suffered. We have experts we regularly deal with that can evaluate these cases and explain to a jury in simple terms how products could be made safer and how accidents can be prevented. We provide these services to our clients and advance all the expenses related to bringing the case, and we only get paid a fee and get repaid our expenses if we recover for our clients.
Be on the lookout when using a new or unfamiliar product for any dangers it might pose. Should you or a loved one be injured by a product, be sure to talk to an experience attorney about whether the product was unreasonably dangerous when it was made.