Karen Walsh: Manufacturers and suppliers can be held liable for defects

Action for the recovery of damages can only be brought within three years.

Thousands of different types of machines and equipment are used in the agricultural industry by farmers of all types to keep their farming business’ going.

These include tractors, combine harvesters, mowers, balers, and cultivators.

These machines and tools can cause serious risk of injury if they are defective in design or manufacture, or fail to have appropriate warnings.

The serious risk of injury posed by this equipment and machinery is shown by the large number of injuries that occur in the agricultural industry every year.

Defective farm equipment causing accidents could involve machine malfunctions, PTOs, defective conveyor belts, defective balers, defective mowers, defective tyres on equipment, etc.

There are strict laws to ensure health and safety when it comes to the machines which farmers purchase.

Farmers are entitled to expect that the things they buy are safe. However, sometimes there are instances when some products may be faulty or defective, and can cause serious personal injury and/or property damage, as a result.

Product manufacturers and suppliers can be held liable for design defects and manufacturing flaws, and for not including adequate safeguards, particularly on dangerous products, and for inadequate product warnings or information on such products.

There are a number of ways under Irish law in which manufacturers or suppliers of defective goods or products can be held liable.

Aside from the protection afforded to consumers under the principles of negligence and contract, the Defective Products Act, 1991 was enacted, which implemented the Council Directive 85/374EEC on product liability in Ireland.

The act provides that a product is defective where “it fails to provide the safety which a person is entitled to expect, taking all circumstances into account”.

The relevant circumstances include the presentation of the product, the use to which it could be reasonably be expected that the product would be put, and the time when the product was put in circulation.

The act effectively provides that the cause of action is one of strict liability, that is, instead of the plaintiff having to prove fault, it is for the defendant to establish one of the defences set out in the act.

If the defendant succeeds in proving one of the defences, the defendant will avoid liability under the act, but may still be held liable to the plaintiff in negligence.

The most significant or most used defence is what is known as the “development risk” defence. 

Where the defect could not have been discovered at the time of the product’s circulation, because the state of the technological and scientific knowledge was not then competent to do, so the producer would not be liable. 

If you are a farmer who has been injured or suffered damage to farm property, for example livestock, you probably have serious concerns about getting back to work and protecting your livelihood.

Farmers are also generally conservative and cautious people who have no desire to be involved in court cases. The farmer has to be a “jack of all trades” — manager, owner, labourer, etc. 

Holding the manufacturers and sellers of defective and dangerous equipment accountable not only helps the person injured, but helps deter the manufacturer from continuing to use defective products. 

Many successful defective product cases result in recalls of the defective product, which prevents injuries to others, and dissuades the manufacturer from cutting corners in the future.

Defective product liability cases can be complex, and the facts necessary to prove your case should be collected as soon as possible, to protect your rights.

If any product has harmed you, your family, and your livestock, or caused you to suffer material damage or loss, that product must be preserved, so that its condition at the time of the accident can be assessed.

Having this vital evidence increases the chance of you being successful with your claim.

An action for the recovery of damages can only be brought within three years from the date on which the damage occurred, or the date (if later) on which the plaintiff became aware, or should reasonably have become aware, of the damage, the defect and the identity of the producer.

One should not delay, if possible.

It is always advisable to obtain legal advice if you have been injured, or believe you have been injured because of defective farm equipment, as early as possible, and to act promptly.

Karen Walsh, from a farming background at Grenagh, Co Cork, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths, 17, South Mall, Cork.

Telephone: 021-4270200 

 Email: info@walshandpartners.ie 

Web: www.walshandpartners.ie 

 While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, solicitor Karen Walsh does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising, and you should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.


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