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When is a seller liable in products liability law?

A few weeks ago, we discussed the concept of strict liability of manufacturers of defective products. That is, we talked about a part of civil law that allows consumers to hold makers of defective items placed into the stream of commerce liable even if they weren't negligent about doing so. We've also previously mentioned that sometimes the seller of a product may be liable if someone is injured by a defect. This liability is somewhat different from that which attaches to the manufacturer, as we shall see.

In Texas, Section 82.003 of the Civil Practice and Remedy Code controls in situations where an injured party attempts to hold a person or entity who sold a defective product, but did not make it, responsible. As a general rule, the seller of an item is not liable for defects in the item that cause harm if that seller did not also manufacture the item. However, there are certain instances set out in the law that the plaintiff may prove in order to overcome that presumption.

First, if the seller participated in the design of a defective product, he or she may be liable. Further, if the seller modified the product, or installed it on another item, and the harm was caused due to the modification or installation, liability may be attached to that seller. Also, a seller can be liable if he or she had substantial control over instructions or warnings about the product and a defect in those warnings or instruction caused the injury, or the seller made an incorrect representation about the product and that representation led to the harm. Finally, the seller may be liable if he or she knew about the defect that caused the injury, or the plaintiff can show that the manufacturer cannot be sued because it is defunct or not within the court's jurisdiction.

Basically, the concept with such product liability laws is that the seller is not responsible for problems with the products he or she sells, unless he or she intercedes in some way affecting the product between the time the manufacturer makes it and the consumer buys it. And, as is usually the case, such intervention must have a causal connection to the injury suffered.

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