Liability for Defective Products

The average person relies on thousands of manufactured products every day, usually without even realizing it. From the smallest screw in the engine on your car, to the cookie you ate for a snack, we rarely think twice about the safety of the products we consume, drive, fly, wear, or switch on and off. But what happens when products fail, through defective design or sloppy manufacturing? Who is responsible?

In 1932, the English House of Lords (also Canada’s highest court at the time) laid the groundwork for our current product liability laws. A Scottish woman had consumed part of her ginger beer when she noticed the remains of a snail in the bottle, following which she became ill. She sued the manufacturer of the ginger beer for her losses. In finding the defendant responsible, the House of Lords concluded that a manufacturer of products owed a duty of reasonable care to persons who ultimately consumed or relied on the product. In other words, a manufacturer must take care to ensure that the products it makes are both safe and reasonably fit for their intended purpose. For example, cars must be fitted with brakes that operate in all the usual driving conditions, prescription medications must not cause unexpected harm or death, and food products must not make us sick or cause injury.

In Canada, each of the provinces has also legislated a “Sale of Goods Act” which makes sellers or retailers of products responsible for, among other things, hidden defects which are not obvious upon inspection. For example, your grocery store may be responsible if the cookies you bought were laced with hidden salmonella bacteria.

Long gone are the days of “buyer beware”. Today, consumers can rest assure the thousands of products they rely on will be safe and fit for their intended purpose. And when products fail, manufacturers and retailers will be held responsible for the damages they cause.

If you have suffered injury as a result of a product failure, you should contact a lawyer immediately.

About the Authors


Adam Little earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto in 1996. He graduated from Queen’s University Faculty of Law in 2000 and was called to the bar in 2002. Adam was practicising on Bay Street for a leading Toronto litigation firm that represented doctors in medical malpractice claims when he realized that helping people through personal injury litigation was what he wanted to do. “I wanted to work for the best,” he said. A partner at Oatley Vigmond had written the best-known book available about addressing jury trials, which Adam had read and admired. He wrote to the partner, went through an intense interview process and became a partner at the firm in 2005.

To learn more about Adam, please click here.