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Products Liability Claims in Construction Accidents

Construction sites and other heavy manufacturing locations are full of machinery, equipment, and materials, all of which pose a risk of personal injury to workers.   Unfortunately, these construction accidents are often extremely serious sometimes resulting in the death of a worker.

Product Liability Through Distribution Chain

If a worker is injured using a tool, working with building materials, or running machinery, the worker may potentially have a products liability claim if the product he or she was using is defective. Construction sites are extremely dangerous as is the equipment even when it is in safe working order.  In order to pursue a claim, it must be shown that the equipment or machinery was somehow defective.

Any party in the distribution chain, from the designer to the manufacturer to the seller may be held responsible depending on the circumstances of the injury from the product.  The New Worker’s Compensation Act (the Act) works to protect employers from liability beyond the provisions of the Act through its exclusivity provisions.  Because of the Act’s limitations, third party liability such as that involving products liability claims may be the only possible avenue for recovery.

In New Mexico, a defendant may sometimes be held strictly liable on products liability claims.  Strict liability only requires the injured worker to show that the product was defective and that the product caused the worker’s injury.  With strict liability, the injured worker does not need to prove that the defendant acted negligently or with intent.

There are a number of possible products liability claims along the chain of commerce in a products liability claim:  design defects, manufacturing errors and marketing issues.

Design Defect

An injured worker may bring a claim asserting that the product was improperly designed, making it unreasonably dangerous and thereby causing the worker’s injury. For example, a product with a spinning fan that did not adequately prevent the user from accidentally inserting his or her hand could be subject to a defective design claim. Generally, defective design cases require the injured worker to show the defendant acted negligently. However, if the injured worker can show that a safer cost-effective design would have prevented the risk of injury, strict liability may sometimes be imposed.

Manufacturing Error

An injured worker may also allege that the product was improperly manufactured. Manufacturing defects tend to be the easiest to prove because the injured worker need only prove that the product does not match the designer’s or manufacturer’s specifications. Often the worker may only need to use those standards to prove the defect. For example, if a circular saw is manufactured improperly causing the blade to come loose during use, a worker injured by that saw could seek damages by alleging a manufacturing defect. In some circumstances, the injured worker may also be entitled to hold the defendant strictly liable, rather than proving negligence.

Marketing Problems

A worker may also seek redress for marketing defects, which are not as well-known as defective design or manufacturing claims. Marketing defects include failing to warn users of hidden dangers, improperly labeling a product, providing insufficient instructions or misrepresenting the product. While the defendant is not required to warn a worker that the blade of the saw is dangerous, they may be liable if they fail to warn the worker that the exhaust fan blade can catch on loose clothing. Or the defendant may be liable if the product’s instructions do not provide enough information for the worker to properly use the product. This would include, for example, situations where a worker is injured changing a saw blade because the instructions did not properly explain the procedure. Finally, a worker may be entitled to recovery if the product was advertised or promoted for uses beyond which it was designed. For example, a defendant may be liable for advertising that a circular saw could be used to open paint cans if that use results in a worker’s injury.

Alterations to Products

Other issues may come up as well such as alteration of the equipment by the installer or the employer.  The manufacturer may be potentially be held liable for alterations that it knows or has reason to know the employer will make to the equipment rendering it unsafe for workers.

This occurs much more often than one might think.  For example, companies and/or their workers often alter the machinery in order to make their jobs easier or more efficient.  Unfortunately, these changes may often make the equipment or machinery less safe.

Seek Legal Guidance

These cases, as with all work injury cases, can be quite complex.  This begins with determining third party liability to avoid Workers’ Compensation exclusive remedy provisions.  The more difficult part still is proving the product was defective.  This could require a range of experts such as engineers, product designers, safety experts and so on.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious personal injury or wrongful death in a work injury case, you should seek the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney.