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Products Liability

Consumer-friendly liability laws don’t make cases a breeze

Last spring, a story that may herald the future made headlines across the world. A man in Florida died at the wheel of his Tesla car. He wasn’t driving, the autopilot function was. There were reports that he was watching a movie on a tablet at the time. Unfortunately, the vehicle, going highway speed, didn’t detect a semitrailer-truck ahead and collided with it.

More recently, a small group of Tesla Motor Inc. customers filed suit against the company in federal court in Southern California. They allege that they unwittingly paid a premium for semi-autonomous driving functionality and become “beta testers of half-baked software” that makes their vehicles dangerous if engaged. Whether the product hazard claim has merit is something the legal process will determine, but many legal observers agree that this case represents only the tip of an iceberg.

What‘s California law?

It is worth noting that California has some of the most consumer-friendly product liability laws on the books. Indeed, it is by virtue of such a law that you see disclaimers on nearly every product around that warn users that they contain chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm.

To some, that might seem over the top. Some might even think that this bent in California culture suggests that obtaining compensation for injuries caused by dangerous products is easy. That is not the case.

There are many controlling limits in the law. To be sure you hit the required marks in the required way, it’s always wise to consult with an experienced attorney.

For example, there are statutes of limitations on bringing personal injury claims. The timing of particular filings depends on the nature of the injury or damage suffered. There also can be limits on what you can collect if you are partially at fault.

The key message here is that you should never assume you don’t have a case, but you shouldn’t assume you do, either.