Injuries from cosmetic products can come in a wide variety of forms — from allergic reactions to infections and other complications. There are two main legal theories that a person injured by a cosmetic product (the plaintiff) could sue under: product liability and breach of warranty. This article discusses what a plaintiff in a cosmetic injury suit must prove under either theory, cases specifically related to allergic reactions, and the possibility of class action lawsuits.
Product Liability: The Basics
The most likely theory to be used in a lawsuit involving cosmetic product injuries is product liability. An injured plaintiff can sue both the manufacturer and/or the seller (the defendant) of the cosmetic product if his or her injury was caused by a defect, a defective design or improper labeling. Most states follow what is called the “strict product liability” rule, although a few still use traditional negligence rules.
A plaintiff suing under a strict liability theory simply needs to prove:
- that he or she was the kind of consumer that the defendant intended to use the product
- that the defect did not occur after the product was sold, and
- that the plaintiff was injured.
This kind of theory is called “strict liability” because many of the requirements in a standard negligence case, like proof of a specific duty of care owed to the plaintiff, are not included. Most states adopted strict liability for mass-marketed consumer products because, among other things, the manufacturers needed to be financially responsible for their products, and not be allowed to escape liability simply because of the difficulty plaintiffs faced trying to prove negligence claims.
In a negligence case (in those few states that still use this theory for consumer products), the plaintiff will need to prove:
- that he or she bought the product from the defendant
- that the defendant should have known that the product could be dangerous if unaccompanied by proper warnings, or that the product had a defect
- that the failure to warn the plaintiff, or the defect or defective design, injured the plaintiff, and
- that the plaintiff didn’t do anything to cause the injury.
Breach of Warranty
A cosmetic product injury case based on a breach of warranty theory will be the same as other standard breach of warranty cases.
An injured plaintiff could sue for breach of an express warranty if the seller or manufacturer made specific guarantees that a product would have specific effects that the product did not have (note that this theory might not fit with most cases involving an actual injury).
The plaintiff could also sue for breach of an implied warranty that the cosmetic product was fit for normal use, i.e. the implied guarantee that no normal cosmetic product would cause an injury if used properly.
Finally, the plaintiff could sue for breach of an implied warranty that the product was fit for a specific purpose, i.e. that the defendant knew the plaintiff wanted to use the product for a specific purpose, but the product caused an injury when the plaintiff tried use it.
There are many state and federal laws controlling breach of warranty claims. Some breach of warranty claims may not be appropriate when the plaintiff is suing for physical injuries, if the law only allows compensation for the money lost on the product (what is called “economic damages”).
Some warranty laws, however, do allow a plaintiff to sue for physical injuries. Perhaps more importantly, proving a breach of warranty can help prove a strict liability or negligence claim. A plaintiff is not limited to suing under one theory, so including a breach of warranty claim in a cosmetic injury lawsuit will generally help a plaintiff’s case overall.
Injuries Caused by Allergies
If a manufacturer knows, or should know, that a product might cause an allergic reaction in some people, injured plaintiffs could potentially sue the manufacturer for failing to warn about the allergic reaction under a strict liability or negligence theory. A breach of warranty theory might also be possible if the allergic reaction is not extremely rare, i.e. the product was not fit for cosmetic use because some percentage of the population was allergic.
Class Actions for Cosmetic Product Injuries
If a cosmetic product causes many or all of its users the same kind of injury, then a class action may be possible. In a class action case, multiple plaintiffs with the same kind of injury from the same source sue the defendant in one lawsuit.
If someone is injured by a cosmetic product, they or their attorney should research whether there is already a class action case or a settlement fund for people injured by the product. Often, even though the case has settled, there will be a fund to pay those who were not a part of the original case.
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