Strict Liability vs. Negligence in Defective Product Claims

Defective products come in all shapes and sizes. They can be a chainsaw with a power button that gets stuck on or a failure in the electrical system in your car that causes your brakes to lock up. In either case, you could be left with a serious injury and major medical expenses. In cases such as these, where a defective product leads to your injury, you can file a legal claim to seek compensation. And if your claim falls under the purview of strict liability, then the advantage is on your side.

Why Strict Liability Exists in Pennsylvania

Chainsaw diagram

When you are injured by a defective product, there is legal recourse for you to seek compensation. One way Pennsylvania protects consumers from defective products is through strict liability laws that apply to certain defective product injury cases. The goal of such legal claims is to encourage manufacturers to invest money into testing, quality assurance, and inspection processes rather than dealing with costly litigation.

In strict liability cases, the responsible parties are at fault regardless of reckless actions or negligence. That means in your personal injury claim you do not need to prove that there was any specific wrongdoing that led to the accident. Another way of phrasing this would be that there is no burden of proof upon you to demonstrate that the manufacturer was at fault in terms of negligence.

Strict Liability Personal Injury Claims

Lawnmower product liability

Going back to one of the initial examples, suppose that you were seriously injured in a car accident due to a defect in the braking system on your vehicle. For a strict liability lawsuit to be applicable to your personal injury claim, you would need to prove that the accident was caused by a defect in the braking system. There is no need to prove that the engineering team was criminally negligent in designing it, or that the manufacturer released it to the market before testing was complete.

As long as a defect exists and that defect caused your injury, you have a claim. For this reason, most personal injury claims involving defective products will be strict liability claims by default. But, who is strictly liable can vary greatly based on the specifics of the case. It may be the designer, manufacturer, distributor, or even the retailer depending on when and where the defect was introduced to the product.

It is important to keep in mind that, just because your defective product injury case may be considered a strict liability case, there are still many forms of defense available to the party you are trying to hold responsible. They may claim that you were not using the product properly, that you made unforeseeable modifications to the product, that there was no defect in the product, or that the defect did not cause your injuries. These types of arguments can be upheld by expert witnesses and could adversely affect your case. And, manufacturers often fight personal injury claims very aggressively to prevent others from filing similar claims against them. That is one of the major reasons why many victims seek the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney.

Personal Injury Claims Citing Negligence 

car accident

Some personal injury claims related to defective products do not qualify as strict liability cases, however. These types of cases are based on negligence, so you will have to prove that the defendant acted recklessly or negligently and that those actions resulted in your injuries. Negligence is key in personal injury claims that are not considered strict liability claims; under the law, negligence is defined as a failure to behave as a reasonable individual or entity would.

Negligence is more difficult to prove than simply that a defect exists because it indicates that the responsible party failed to uphold an acceptable standard of care. It does not mean that the design or manufacture of a product was faulty, but that the manufacturer knowingly took risks that could put others in danger.

For example, negligence would be difficult to prove given a thorough inspection process with an excellent track record of finding defects that missed a one-of-a-kind problem in a brake lining. But it is another matter entirely if there is evidence that the inspection process was rarely followed and thousands of systems with common brake lining defects were brought to market.

Even after negligence is proven, you will still have to prove that the particular defect in question was the cause of your injuries. And while you may have expert witnesses on your behalf demonstrating that this was indeed the case, keep in mind that the responsible party will also have their fair share of experts attempting to prove otherwise. While proving negligence in a defective product personal injury case is far more challenging than the burden of proof in a strict liability case, it is certainly not impossible for an experienced personal injury lawyer to accomplish.


In a defective product liability case, there are two situations you may find yourself in: filing a strict liability personal injury case or a negligence-based personal injury case. Strict liability is the default (although it may not always apply) and gives you an advantage because you only need to prove that a defect exists and that it was the cause of your injuries. In negligence-based claims, on the other hand, you still have to prove the same claims concerning the defect and you must prove that the negligence or recklessness on the part of the responsible party caused the defect to reach consumers.

Contact Donaghue & Labrum Today

At Donaghue & Labrum, you can count on our experienced team to fight for you so you can receive the compensation that the law says you deserve. We are personal injury lawyers with decades of experience in aggressively representing our clients, in both strict liability and negligence-based defective product claims. Contact us today for a consultation and let us put the law to work for you!