Why Sellers of Defective Products Should Be Responsible For the Harm Those Products Cause

When you go to the store you expect that what you buy – whether it’s a new appliance, a new tool, a new toy for your children – is safe if used as intended. You may not give much thought to where the product was made or how many companies had a part in producing, packaging and moving the product from the factory to the store shelf. If you use the product and find out it’s defective, or if the defective product causes injury to you or a family member, you expect the corporation that sold the product to pay for the harm it caused.

Unfortunately some retail corporations refuse to accept responsibility for selling defective and dangerous products. Typically the store will argue that the product was defective when it was made and was delivered to the store that way, the store did nothing but sell the product, therefore the injured victim should seek a remedy from the manufacturer, not the store, in other words telling the victim “go away, it’s not our fault.” That may be acceptable when the manufacturer can be identified and can be made to pay for the harm, but what if the manufacturer is no longer in business, or as is more common in today’s global economy, what if the manufacturer is a small Chinese company difficult or impossible to sue in an American court? In that case who should bear the brunt of the medical expenses, loss of earnings, and other harms caused by the dangerous product: the innocent victim, or the store that made a profit selling the product?

In Illinois and some, but not all, other states, when a store sells a dangerous and defective product that causes injury or death, and the victim is not able to obtain reasonable compensation from the manufacturer, the store must pay for the harm. This is a reasonable law that takes into account that the seller is in a position to prevent the sale of dangerous products by carefully selecting which suppliers to buy from and by inspecting the products it sells to make sure they are fit for their intended uses.

Corporate sellers don’t like this law and would like to see it changed. They would prefer to be able to buy from the cheapest suppliers without worrying about manufacturing methods, knowing that they are safe from having to pay for any harm caused by the products they sell. The next time you read or hear about so-called “tort reform” efforts aimed at changing the laws regarding product liability, keep in mind that the law should continue to provide protection to victims of defective products, not the corporations that make a profit by selling defective products.

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