Product Liability Explained: Design Defects

Some of the biggest and most famous product liability cases come from design defects claims. Some design defect cases are mass torts or class actions involving thousands of consumers nationwide. Others involve just one injured consumer. No matter how big or small your design defect lawsuit, you need to know what it takes prove your case

Michigan Product Liability Turns an Eye to Design and Development

Michigan product liability cases can arise any time a consumer is injured by a product they bought. As mentioned in part one of this blog series, there are 3 types of product liability cases:

  • Manufacturing defects – where the particular thing sold didn’t live up to the company’s design
  • Design defects – where the thing was made to specifications, but still contained a danger
  • Marketing defects – where the company said or did something to make a product seem better than it was or failed to warn about a known danger

Last time we discussed problems in manufacturing. Today’s post will focus on design defects. A future post will look into marketing and notice problems. All three types of product liability can be the basis of a personal injury lawsuit, and sometimes your claim could include all three.

Design Defects: When Products are Developed Without Safety in Mind

When a product you buy has a built-in danger you couldn’t see or reasonably avoid, you may have a design defect. Most design defects start in the Research and Development department of the manufacture. When manufacturers push their engineers and designers to cut corners, consumer safety often ends up on the cutting room floor.

Unlike in manufacturing defect cases, the issue here isn’t whether the particular product lived up internal safety protocol. Instead, an entire line of products may contain a hidden danger that you, the consumer, could not reasonable know without a notice or warning. Because these cases focus on the specifications and design of the product, they often become a “battle of the experts,” with engineers and consultants weighing in on:

  • Whether the danger should have been obvious to the consumer
  • What the company could have done to make the product safer
  • Whether the proposed design change would be reasonable in light of market pressures and costs

Because these experts’ fees can get expensive, many design defect lawsuits involve multiple plaintiffs with similar injuries. They can also result in class actions, where the representative plaintiffs sue on behalf of everyone injured by the defective design.

Examples of Design Defect Cases

Design defect cases can involve any consumer or commercial product and any safety issue with the design. Anytime a manufacturer ignored a danger inherent to the way a product was made, you could have a product liability case. Here are some samples of design defect cases, though there are many more:

  • Building materials that cannot tolerate exposure to heat or cold
  • Exhaust designs that put hot pipes too close to flammable materials or the user
  • Use of materials that can easily shatter or break
  • Continued use of chemicals after they have been proven toxic to users
  • Design of tools or sharp implements without safeguards for the blades

Which Law Applies

Sometimes, defendant manufacturers in a design defect case will try to point the finger at federal regulators of their industry. Their defense says that if their product was good enough for the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, then it must be good enough under state law. In technical terms, this is called “federal preemption”. Sometimes, it can be a valid defense to a consumer product liability claim. Other times, federal law doesn’t stop a state products liability lawsuit for products sold within that state. The difference depends on the specific language of the federal law regulating the product in question.

Design defects require a great deal of technical knowledge, both on the law and the particular product in question. That’s why experts are so important in these cases. If you believe you have been injured because of an inherent danger in a consumer product, our product liability attorneys at Macomb Law Group can help. We know how to make the most of state and federal safety and consumer protection laws. We will help you file a complaint to compensate you for your injury, and defend against manufacturers trying to turn the blame back on you. Contact Macomb Law Group to schedule a consultation and get our team working for you.


  • James Spagnuolo

    I began working in personal injury law more than 20 years ago, starting as a law clerk during my first year of law school at Wayne State University School of Law in Detroit. After passing the bar exam in 2002, I went on to become a partner at a series of law firms before opening the Macomb Law Group in 2017.

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