Product safety law

Product liability claims and penalties

Guide

If you are liable for harm caused by an unsafe product, you can be sued by anyone who is harmed - even if they didn't buy the product themselves. You could also be prosecuted.

Product liability claims

You can be sued for compensation for death or injury. You can also be sued for damage or loss of private property caused by faulty goods if the damage amounts to at least £275. The amount that can be claimed will depend on the harm suffered. There is no upper limit.

Many businesses take product liability insurance to protect them from legal costs and damages awards.

Defending a product liability claim

If someone sues you under product liability laws, your first step is to consider who is liable. If you are a distributor, such as a shop, you may not be liable if you can identify the original producer.

If you're the producer and you believe the problem was caused by a fault in your production process, you may want to admit liability and settle the claim. Alternatively, you will need to prove one of six defences:

  1. You did not supply the product. For example, you are not liable if a product is stolen or is a fake copy of one of your products.
  2. You could not reasonably be expected to discover the safety fault. For example, if scientific evidence first comes to light after you have manufactured or sold your product.
  3. The safety fault was an inevitable result of obeying other laws.
  4. Someone else caused the fault after you supplied the product.
  5. You didn't supply the product in the course of business. For example, the law does not apply to private gifts.
  6. If you make components, you are not liable if you can show that the manufacturer who assembled the product caused the fault. For example, the manufacturer might have made a poorly designed product or ordered the wrong components from you.

You can't defend yourself simply on the basis that a user was careless. But if you can show that they contributed to a problem, the amount of damages may be reduced.

Enforcement authorities

Enforcement authorities can take action if they think unsafe products are being supplied.

Trading Standards are responsible for most safety enforcement. Some special products, such as food and medicines, are dealt with by other authorities. Check with the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service if you are unsure.

Trading Standards officers can buy or seize goods to check they are safe. They can also enter your premises to see whether you are breaking the rules. If they think your products are unsafe, they can:

  • order you to stop selling them
  • go to court and ask for the products to be destroyed
  • prosecute you - if convicted you could be fined or imprisoned
  • demand the recall of an unsafe product - see product recalls

If Trading Standards take enforcement action against you under product safety rules, you can choose to defend yourself. You need to prove you did everything that could reasonably be expected. If you're successful, you may get compensation for any loss suffered - eg if Trading Standards destroyed your goods.

You should be aware that court cases are usually expensive and complicated. Take professional legal advice before taking any action.