Product makers may be liable for injuries, regardless of ‘fault’

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Generally, in order to hold someone liable in court for an injury, you have to show that they were careless or irresponsible in some way. If somebody ran a red light and hit you, that might not be hard to prove. But if a complex piece of machinery fails, it might be difficult to say exactly what went wrong, or what should have been done differently.

Fortunately, the court system recognizes this problem, and has made it easier for injured people to be compensated in many cases.

For instance, a man in Maine suffered severe abdominal pain after eating a hot turkey sandwich at a truck stop. Doctors discovered a small perforation of his esophagus, and evidence that it was caused by a turkey bone. The man sued the manufacturer of the turkey product in the sandwich, which was supposed to be “boneless.”

The manufacturer argued that it did everything it could to remove the bones, that it wasn’t careless or irresponsible, and that the man couldn’t point to anything specific that the company did wrong.

But the Maine Supreme Court sided with the man. It said that the question wasn’t what specific thing the company did wrong, but whether the product lived up to the reasonable expectations that consumers would have for it.

According to the court, if a consumer wouldn’t reasonably expect a “boneless” turkey product to contain a bone fragment large and sharp enough to perforate a person’s esophagus, then the company could be liable.

The law varies from state to state and case to case, but there are many instances where the courts have decided that the real issue isn’t what exact thing a manufacturer did wrong, but simply whether a product is safe enough to be sold to consumers – regardless of how careful the manufacturing process was.