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When can I sue a seller for product liability?

Product liability lawsuits have long been associated with causes of action against product manufacturers for items that are defectively designed or manufactured. This is understandable, for who would be in a better position to be aware of such defects and their foreseeable consequences to consumers than the manufacturer?

But product liability also extends beyond manufacturers to sellers as well, although Texas law provides some protections to what are known as "passive" or "innocent" sellers of goods that turn out to be dangerously defective.

The governing statute, Section 82.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, generally does not allow a seller to be sued for product liability unless it qualifies for one of a number of elaborated exceptions. These include: 

  • The seller participated in the product design.
  • The seller modified the product, and that modification resulted in the harm to the plaintiff.
  • The seller installs the defective product onto another product, with harm to the plaintiff resulting therefrom.
  • The seller exercised substantial control over the content of the defective products warnings or instructions.
  • The seller makes false claims about the product, which the plaintiff relied on and which led to the plaintiff's injury.
  • The seller is aware of the defect in the product that causes harm when it sells the product.
  • The manufacturer of the product is either insolvent, or not subject to jurisdiction under Texas law.

Aside from providing guidance on when an injured plaintiff can sue a seller based on product liability, the Texas law on the subject also can have a bearing on whether the lawsuit will be heard in Texas state court or federal district court. For example, if the product manufacturer is located out of state and there is no seller liability under the law, then the out-of-state defendants will often seek to remove the lawsuit from state to federal jurisdiction if there is no local Texas defendant named in the lawsuit.

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