As a consumer, when we buy any product, be that a washing machine, building materials, or a child’s toy, it is with the expectation that the item will be safe. So, what happens when we, our families or our property suffers damage from a faulty product?
Under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and retailers are responsible for ensuring that the products they manufacture, distribute, supply or sell are safe and fit for purpose. The area of British law that covers this is called ‘product liability’.
What is the Consumer Protection Act 1987?
The Consumer Protection Act 1987 provides you, as a consumer, with the right to make a claim for compensation against anyone who manufactures, distributes, supplies or sells a defective product to you that has caused damage, be that to your property, a personal injury or even death.
Who can be held liable for defective products?
Depending on the individual case, product liability can be brought against any of the following,
- the producer, manufacturer or assembler of the product, these may not be the same company
- anyone responsible for a process that the product has gone through
- the importer of the product
- the distributor of the product
- anyone who sold the product
- anyone who has customised or serviced the product
A claim could be brought against one or several of the above in a single case of product liability.
It is a legal requirement that any products that will be sold to consumers are safe, and that consumers have been warned about any potential risk (such as the choking hazard that a small product may present to a child) and have been provided with information to help them understand any such risk.
All products should be monitored and checked for safety by the responsible parties and if a safety problem is found, it is their responsibility (the producer or manufacturer, for instance) to take action to ensure that the safety issue is remedied, even if that means withdrawing the unsafe product.
The main responsibility for ensuring products are safe lies with producers and manufacturers.
What is a defective product?
The term ‘product’ can include goods (such as a fridge freezer or a hat) or a component part of a product (a doll’s leg that comes unattached). It could even include electricity, or the raw material of a product (such as the kind of silicone used in a breast implant).
In Section 3(1) of the Consumer Protection Act, a product is deemed to be defective if “the safety of the product is not such as persons generally are entitled to expect”. For the court to assess how this applies to each case, they will consider:
- The marketing of the product. Were there any warnings on the product or packaging?
- Did the instructions include warnings?
- What is the recommended and expected use of the product?
- Would you expect the product’s safety to have deteriorated over time?
What is meant by damage?
Under Section 5(1) of the Consumer Protection Act, the term ‘damage’ means “death or personal injury or any loss of or damage to any property (including land)”.
Who enforces product liability?
The majority of safety enforcement is carried out by Trading Standards officers in local councils, however, there are some exceptions such as medicines and food. For more information, visit https://www.tradingstandards.uk/ or contact your local council.
Product liability relating to food should be addressed through your local authority. For more information, visit https://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/regulation/foodlaw
Product liability claims relating to medicine should be addressed through the MRHA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency). For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/medicines-and-healthcare-products-regulatory-agency
What can I claim for and what can’t I claim for?
A product, in this instance, covers most items that can be sold but there are a number of exceptions:
- buildings and land (although the materials used to construct a building such as bricks are counted as products)
- computer software
You also can’t make a claim for,
- loss of the product
- damage to the product
- when business products that are not intended for private use have been damaged
- damage to property that is worth less than £275
What should I do if damage has been caused by a defective product? What evidence do I need to make a claim?
If you’ve been injured by the product or as a consequence of the product, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible and keep a record of your appointment, whether with a GP or a hospital, to use in your claim. You are within your rights to request proof from your GP or hospital of your injury and the related treatment in writing.
If you own the product, then hang onto it because it will be necessary for it to be examined and tested as part of your claim. Keep any receipts for the product too as proof of purchase.
If you don’t own the product which injured you, tell the owner what has happened so that the product can’t harm anyone else. Also inform them of your intention to make a claim.
Take photographs of the product, along with any warning labels, warnings in the instructions, serial numbers, and model numbers. Photograph any damage, whether to yourself, belongings or property.
Is there a time limit for bringing a claim?
Yes, you must make your claim within three years of the date of the damage caused by the product, or the date when you became aware that the product was defective.
Can I bring a claim if I didn’t buy the product?
A claim can be made by anyone who is injured by a defective product, whether they purchased the product or not. So, if a bystander was injured as a result of the product then they are within their rights to make a claim even though they didn’t buy the product.
To make a claim, must the damage have been caused completely by the defect?
No, under Section 2(1) of the Consumer Protection Act, it is acceptable for the damage to have been caused only partly by the defect. The defect doesn’t have to be the only cause of the damage, but it does have to be part of the cause.
What if the product was made unsafe by the distributor or seller?
If the product was safe when it left the producer or manufacturer and was subsequently made unsafe by the distributer or seller, you can still make a claim.
Your claim will generally be against the distributor or seller who made the product unsafe, however, if the product needed special handling and the producer or manufacturer didn’t make this clear, then they may bear some responsibility for the damage caused.
How legal advice can help
By choosing a solicitor that is experienced in product liability cases, you will be accessing a wealth of legal knowledge to steer you through the complexities of this area of law.
From knowing which body to contact, be that a local Trading Standards officer or the MRHA, to helping you compile the correct evidence, to assisting you in the small claims court, specialist legal advice can ensure that your claim has the best chance possible of success.