On many occasions, each one of us has once bought a product with latent defects from a nearby retail shop, a metallic device to use in a broken machine but does not work or fit due to poor workmanship (manufacture’s error) and so on.
It now common in Rwanda that consumers do not seek legal redress despite the harm caused by the products they consume. This can either be attributed to lack of consumer protection laws in place or negligence by consumers to claim their rights.
Such consumer behavior is bad because manufacturers and producers should be held liable for pirated, expired and unworthy products on the market.
Product liability is the area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make products available to the public are held responsible for the injuries those products cause.
This responsibility is taken into account when a claim is brought by a consumer for physical injury, damage to property, or some other loss, that occurred directly as a result of a problem from a product handled by that company.
A manufacturer’s responsibility lies in the workmanship of the product and in the packaging. If the product is created with inferior work, has defects, was built using inadequate materials, or has individual pieces that don’t function correctly, or if the product isn’t labeled with proper & improper uses, the chances of product liability goes up.
For product liability to arise, at some point the product must have been sold in the marketplace. For strict liability to apply, the sale of a product must be made in the regular course of the supplier’s business. Thus, someone who sells a product at a garage sale would probably not be liable in a product liability action.
The manufacturer of any given product is in a better position than the consumer to know its particular dangers. Therefore, in order to fulfill the public policy of minimizing injury, it is more reasonable to impose the burden of finding and correcting such dangers upon the manufacturer rather than to the consumer.
In product liability cases, a manufacturer should exercise a standard of care that is reasonable for those who are experts in manufacturing similar products. However, even if a plaintiff can prove that a manufacturer has failed to exercise the proper standard of care, the plaintiff cannot recover without proving two aspects of the case.
The plaintiff must first show that without the manufacturer’s negligence, the plaintiff would not have been injured. The plaintiff must also show that the defendant could have foreseen the risks and uses of the product at the time of manufacturing.
A claim in a product liability suit may be based on false or misleading information that is conveyed by the manufacturer of a product. A person who relies on the information conveyed by the seller and who is harmed by such reliance may recover for the mis-representation.
This basis for recovery does not depend on a defect in the product, but rather depends on the false communication.
On the other hand, manufacturers should also be able to defend themselves whenever product liability cases arise.
A defendant in a products liability suit may employ one of several defenses to liability. One of the most common defenses is that the plaintiff misused the product in a manner that was not reasonably foreseeable to the manufacturer.
For instance, assume that a plaintiff wanted to sweep a number of rocks in his driveway back into a bed of rocks. The plaintiff decides to use his lawnmower to shoot the rocks back into the rock bed. One of the rocks strikes and injures the plaintiff.
The defendant could argue that using the lawnmower to move the rocks off the driveway was not a reasonably foreseeable use of the product.
Rwanda and other East African Community partner states should emulate other regional blocs by developing a regional Consumer Protection Act to hold regional manufacturers accountable for their products.
Free movement of capital goods as emphasized by the Common Market protocol should also consider health and safety standards for all East African citizens.
Happy Eugene Mukama is a lawyer.