Legal Repercussions

Bodily injury related to chemical exposure can lead to class-action lawsuits and multi-million dollar payouts. Products liability is a critical coverage for any chemical producer.

Continual Exposure Claims

Most claims experts agree that Continual exposure situations are the biggest products liability concerns for chemical manufacturers. The following are examples of product liability claims…

  • An auto repairman developing a disease linked to a product he’s used for 30+ years.
  • A janitor developing a respiratory or skin condition after using the same cleaning solvent for his entire career.

Products Liability can be broken into 3 major categories – 1) Design Defect, 2) Manufacturing Defect, 3) Warning / Labeling Defect. The article below describes each category and how it relates to the chemical industry.

3 Categories of Products Liability Claims

1. Design Defects

The first type of product liability claim is a lawsuit that is based on the defective design of a product. Legal action alleges that the product is inherently dangerous based on its design alone, rather than an error made during the manufacture of the product.

For example, a car that is top heavy – and therefore poses a high risk of rollover/tip-over – is an example of a defectively designed product.

In chemicals, products aren’t ‘designed’ as much as they are ‘formulated’. The liability exposure, therefore, lies in a defect in the chemical structure of the product.

2. Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing defects are the most common cause of product liability claims. A lawsuit based on a manufacturing defect alleges that the original design of the product is completely safe, but that something happened during the manufacturing process to make the product unsafe.

A manufacturing defect exists if the product does not conform to its intended design and fails to perform safely as the intended design would have performed.

For example, consider a set of tires: the tires themselves are designed to support the weight of a vehicle, resist punctures, and hold up against wear and tear – by accepted standards, the tires are safe for use.

However, during the manufacture of these well-designed tires, sawdust gets into the adhesive glue that is used to secure the tire together, resulting in a high risk of tire tread separation, tire blowout, and a serious accident.

This exposure is similar in chemicals. A product is designed with a specific, government-approved formula. But when, within the production process, the product becomes flawed, there is significant exposure for manufacturing defect products liability.

3. Warning / Labeling Defects

In a product liability claim that focuses on a warning or labeling defect, the plaintiff alleges…

  1. that the product had some sort of inherent danger,
  2. and the manufacturer of the product had a legal duty to warn of this danger but failed to do so.

This is very common with prescription medications; a patient may take a certain medication, only to experience adverse side effects that were not disclosed by the pharmaceutical company.

A warning may be defective due to inadequate wording, location of the warning, or other circumstances concerning the manner in which the warning is conveyed. Consider the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case, in which McDonald’s was sued after a customer spilled a hot cup of coffee on herself, suffering serious burns.

Warning / Labeling Defects are a clear issue for chemical producers. Manufacturers / distributors must provide sufficient and clear wording to prevent product-related litigation.