California "Products Liability" Laws

Under California's “products liability” laws, someone who designs, manufactures or sells a defective product is strictly liable for injuries caused by that product -- even when that person or company was not negligent.1

In California, strict liability can be imposed for three types of product defects:

We discuss each of the specific type of California product liability cases in the articles linked to above.

And to help you better understand how to prevail in a products liability lawsuit in California generally, our California personal injury lawyers discuss, below:

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1. The “elements” of a California products liability claim

Each type of products liability claim requires proof of slightly different elements. In general, however, to prevail on a claim for products liability in California a plaintiff must prove four things:

  1. That the defendant designed, manufactured, distributed or sold a defective product;
  2. That the product contained the defect when it left the defendant's possession;
  3. That the plaintiff used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
  4. That the plaintiff suffered harm as a result of the defect.

2. What is “strict liability” in a products liability case?

Usually, to be liable for a plaintiff's injuries, a defendant must have done (or failed to do) something with negligence, gross negligence, recklessness or the intent to cause harm.

But in rare circumstances, a defendant may be strictly liable for a plaintiff's injuries even when the defendant did nothing wrong.

Under California law, if a product is more dangerous than it should be – or it contains inadequate warnings – whoever designs, makes, or sells the defective product is strictly liable for any injuries that result when the product is used in a reasonably foreseeable way.

3. Use of a product in a “reasonably foreseeable” way

California law requires manufacturers to anticipate how the average consumer will use -- and even misuse -- a product.3

If the way a consumer uses or misuses the product was reasonably foreseeable and such use or misuse injures someone, the defendant(s) will be held strictly liable. 

This doesn't necessarily mean the manufacturer or designer must completely eliminate a danger. Many useful, every day products are inherently dangerous when misused (or even when used).

But people who make dangerous products must take reasonable precautions to minimize the harm that may result from them.

Depending on the circumstances, this can involve the design or manufacturing of a product, or simply inspecting the product or issuing adequate warnings about its dangers.

It is up to a jury to determine whether the defendant took reasonable precautions and whether the plaintiff's use was reasonably foreseeable.

4. Defenses to claims about dangerous products in California

Defenses to products liability lawsuits include (but are not limited to):

  • The defendant was not the one who designed/manufactured/distributed/sold the product,
  • The product was not defective,
  • The product was not defective at the time it left the defendant's possession,
  • Someone else altered or repaired the product negligently,
  • The plaintiff used the product in a way that was not reasonably foreseeable,
  • The plaintiff did not prove any injuries,
  • Something else caused the plaintiff's injuries, or
  • The plaintiff's negligence caused the injuries.

Alternatively, under California's comparative fault law, the jury can allocate liability between the plaintiff, defendant and even third parties and thereby reduce the plaintiff's recovery. 

Injured by a defective product in California? Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know was injured by a product that was defective or which contained inadequate warnings, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Our California product liability lawyers may be able to help you recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and possibly even punitive damages.

Call us at (855) 396-0370 to speak to a lawyer about your case.

But don't delay. The California statute of limitations on your case may be running. Call us today to be sure you don't lose your right to sue.

And if you were injured by a dangerous product in Nevada, we have personal injury law offices in Las Vegas and Reno.


Legal references:

  1. Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548.
  2. See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) Series 1200 -- Products Liability.
  3. Wright v. Stang Manufacturing Co. (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 1218.

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