What Is the Malfunction Doctrine?

If you or a loved one recently suffered injuries in an accident involving a defective product, you may be able to file a product liability claim to compensate for your monetary and non-monetary losses. The laws governing product liability vary from state to state, but many of these claims rely on a legal concept referred to as the “malfunction doctrine.” This theory plays an essential role in proving a defendant’s negligence and helping victims obtain fair compensation for their injuries in accordance with state law.

The Elements of a Product Liability Claim

In order to file a product liability suit, all the following elements must apply:

  • A product was defective in some way. Products may be defective from inherent flaws of design, a malfunction during manufacture, or even because they carry a risk of injury that is not immediately obvious to a consumer.
  • The product’s defect led to a consumer’s injuries
  • The consumer was using the product as intended
  • The plaintiff suffered damages as a result (i.e., medical bills or physical pain)

One of the most important aspects – and sometimes most difficult to prove – is that a product’s defect led directly to a plaintiff’s injuries. In some cases, such as a car accident, the nature of the accident itself could destroy evidence of a product malfunction. This casts a shadow of doubt over a plaintiff’s claims, which can make it difficult to pursue a case. This is where the malfunction doctrine applies.

The Malfunction Doctrine

The malfunction doctrine holds that a victim can demonstrate a defective product without having to rely on the product itself. While proving that a product was defective is key in a product liability case, this can be impossible in some cases. Using the malfunction doctrine, however, a plaintiff can use the product’s destruction as proof of malfunction. Once the plaintiff establishes that the damage was likely related to a product’s malfunction, then he or she can provide evidence that other causes of injury were unlikely or impossible.

The following are examples in which the malfunction doctrine may apply:

  • A defective steering column caused a car accident, but much of the vehicle was incinerated due to the crash. The malfunction doctrine can still help establish fault, even if the steering column was seriously damaged.
  • An e-cigarette explodes in a plaintiff’s hand due to a faulty lithium ion battery. Thanks to the malfunction doctrine, the plaintiff may use the explosion of the vaping pen itself to establish fault.

Limitations to the Malfunction Doctrine

While the malfunction doctrine can be useful in determining fault, it’s not a one-size-fits all solution. In fact, a recent case in Connecticut might set a legal precedent for limiting the malfunction doctrine’s power. In the 2014 case Roland Todd White v. Mazda Motor of America, et al, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that plaintiffs must plead the malfunction doctrine within the initial complaint. The courts decided that notice of the malfunction doctrine was essential for establishing liability in a product liability case.

In other words, if you are interested in pursuing a product liability case, you must have the guidance of an experienced attorney who will establish the malfunction doctrine as evidence during the initial complaint. Failure to do so could result in an unfavorable outcome based on the case outlined above.

If you suffered harm in an accident involving a defective product, but that product no longer exists, you may still be able to collect damages under the malfunction doctrine. State law provides this important avenue of recourse for victims of negligence, but you must know how to use it. For more information or for a free case evaluation, contact the attorneys at Larry R. Williams, PLLC.