Consider the following scenario. You work at a Chicago manufacturing factory. One day the machine you operate becomes jammed. In order to try to remove the jammed material you remove the machine’s guard and place your hand inside. But as you do this the machine starts up and crushes your hand. You are now permanently disabled and unable to do your job. What are your legal options?
Because of Illinois worker’s compensation law you are limited to recover against your employer in the Illinois Industrial Commission and cannot bring a separate civil lawsuit directly against your employer. But if your injury at work involved a machine or product then you may be able to recover damages from the manufacturer in a product liability claim brought as a separate civil suit.
The most common product liability claim from work-related injuries is due to the product’s lack of safety features, such as a guard or an automatic shut-off that is activated when the guard was removed, or a release lever that kills the power instantly. When a product fails to include a reasonable safety feature that makes it unduly dangerous to its user then the manufacturer can be held liable for any injuries sustained while operating the machine.
A product could also be faulty due to a product design or manufacturing defect. A design defect is when the product’s design contains a hazard that could have been made safe by altering the design itself. For example, ladder that doesn’t contain a latch to keep its position locked in place is a design defect. Whereas a manufacturing defect occurs when there are no problems with the design itself, but the defect is caused by faulty manufacturing. If there were poor quality controls in place, or improper materials were used it could result in manufacturing flaws.
Additionally, if there was a lack of warning on your product then it could also be considered defective. This can apply both when there is no warning whatsoever and also when the warning is in a poor location that renders it likely that the user wouldn’t see it.
Lastly, the product you are using can be defective if it malfunctions, meaning that it did not work as it was designed. For example, a product arrives and contains broken glass on which you then cut yourself. The fact that the product is broken on arrival is not a design defect. But because the machine was delivered in a dangerous condition, the injury suffered could be proved to be caused by the unreasonably dangerous arrival condition of the machine.
There are a lot of ways in which a product can be defective and result in a product liability lawsuit. To determine whether or not you have a case requires an inspection of the existing product by an expert who can then qualify the defect. Ideally this inspection can occur immediately after the injury. It’s always best to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible under these circumstances. Should the machine be altered, lost or damaged after the injury, it makes proof of the condition at the time of the injury much harder if not impossible.
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