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New Jersey court rules on retailer liability

A recent New Jersey court ruling has reaffirmed that retailers can be found strictly liable for dangerous or defective products and subject to product liability cases. This all came about when a car battery recently purchased from a retailer exploded in the purchaser's hands. Because the retailer knew of the propensity of the battery to explode, the retailer was not able to protect itself through various "safe harbor" provisions which are put in place to shield retailers from accountability in product liability suits.

What this means is that retailers are now required to have a thorough understanding of the products that they sell. This would include the packaging and labeling of the products as well.

Retailers may be shielded from liability if: (a) they can identify the manufacturer against whom relief can be obtained, and (b) they were not in a position of creating any such defect in the product. However, retailers will be held accountable for certain known defects in the product. This is especially true if they somehow had control over the design, manufacture, labeling or packaging of the product.

Manufacturers and retailers have a duty to provide safe products to the public and protect their customers from unnecessary risk. Consumers often have no way of knowing about such risks unless they are informed of them by the manufacturer or retailer. Yet such risks can also often lead to catastrophic injury.

The evidence in the case pointed to requirements that the retailer know that such batteries were potentially explosive when wrapped in heat sealed packaging. Such packaging was deemed inappropriate because it failed to allow for any ventilation. In this particular circumstance, the packaging was provided by the retailer.

Source: Home Channel News, "Court ruling points to need for retailers to be vigilant about defective goods," by Thomas C. Regan, Jan. 2, 2012

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