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Lawsuits under the New Jersey Products Liability Act

The Law Offices of Andrew R. Jacobs helps consumers, workers and others who have been injured due to the use of a defective product. In New Jersey, these lawsuits are governed in part by the New Jersey Products Liability Act, or NJPLA. This statute was enacted in 1987 to clarify certain aspects of New Jersey product liability law, such as who may bring a product liability action, what constitutes “harm” for the purpose of bringing a claim, and what types of product defects may provide the basis for a lawsuit. Importantly, the statute also describes what types of legal defenses may be available to the manufacturer to avoid liability, as well as the circumstances under which punitive damages may or may not be imposed. Read on for more information about these important aspects of products liability claims in New Jersey.

Manufacturer or Seller Liable

Either the manufacturer or seller can be liable for injuries caused by a defective product. It is up to the injury victim to prove that the product was not reasonably fit, suitable or safe for its intended purpose because it deviated from identical units in its design specifications, formulae, or performance standards (a manufacturing defect); or because it failed to contain adequate warnings or instructions (failure to warn); or because it was designed in a defective manner (design defect). More about these different types of defects can be found on our defective products page.

Defenses to Product Liability Claims

In the case of a design defect, the NJPLA states that a manufacturer or seller will not be liable for an injury if at the time the product left the manufacturer’s control, there was no practical and technically feasible alternative design that would have prevented harm without substantially impairing the product’s function. This defense is not available, however, if the victim can meet a high burden of proof to show:

  • The product was egregiously unsafe or ultra-hazardous
  • The ordinary consumer cannot reasonably be expected to know about the risks
  • The product poses risks of serious injury to persons other than the user or consumer, or
  • The product has little or no usefulness

Another defense to a claim of design defect is available where the product has an inherently unsafe aspect or characteristic that the ordinary consumer is aware of. This defense does not apply to industrial machinery or other equipment used in the workplace, or to dangers that could be feasibly eliminated without impairing the usefulness of the product.

Finally, if the harm was caused by an unavoidably unsafe aspect of the product, and the product contained an adequate warning or instruction about the danger, then the manufacturer may be able to escape liability for the harm their product caused.

Punitive Damages in New Jersey Product Liability Actions

Typically in a personal injury lawsuit, the injured person seeks what are known as compensatory damages. These include economic damages such as medical expenses and lost income, as well as so-called non-economic damages which compensate for harm such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not meant to compensate the victim for a loss so much as to punish the wrongdoer for bad behavior which is especially egregious or wrong and simply not tolerated by society. It is usually much harder to win a punitive damages award than it is a compensatory damage award, and there are many special rules that apply to punitive damages in New Jersey. For instance, punitive damages are only available if compensatory damages have been awarded, and the issue will be decided in a separate hearing after liability and compensatory damages have already been decided. Also, punitive damages are capped at the greater of $350,000 or five times the amount of compensatory damages, even if the jury chooses to make a much higher award.

In the NJPLA, punitive damages are expressly forbidden in the case of a dangerous drug, defective medical device, food or food additive that has been granted premarket approval by the FDA or is generally recognized as safe and effective by the FDA. However, if it can be shown that the manufacturer knowingly withheld or misrepresented information required to be submitted by FDA regulations, and this action was material and relevant to the harm inflicted, then punitive damages may be awarded.

Help is Available for Defective Product Injuries in New Jersey

If you have other questions regarding New Jersey product liability law, or if you have been injured due to the use of a defective product, contact the Law Offices of Andrew R. Jacobs at 973-532-9681 for a free consultation regarding your potential claims.

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