Almost any household chemical can be dangerous if swallowed or spilled. It is estimated that the average home in America contains over 60 toxic chemicals. Some of the commonly used household products that can be dangerous are air fresheners, ammonia, bleach, carpet and upholstery shampoos, dishwasher detergents, drain cleaners, furniture polishes, mold and mildew cleaners, oven cleaners, antibacterial cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners. The injuries that these products can cause range from mild skin irritation to death. Children are more susceptible to injuries from household chemicals because their smaller bodies are more likely to react to small levels of exposure to toxins and because they are more likely than adults to ingest toxins. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 133 people in America die each year as a result of unintentional poisoning.
Companies that manufacture or sell potentially dangerous household chemicals have a duty to make sure that the products do not present an unreasonable risk of harm to consumers. Where a household chemical does have a defect that presents an unreasonable risk of harm, consumers may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer or seller of the product. In fact, in cases across the country, both manufacturers and sellers of household chemicals have been held liable in product liability cases.
In one case, the manufacturer of a cleaner that contained ammonia was found liable for lung injuries suffered by a custodian who used the cleaner. The jury found that the manufacturer was liable because it failed to establish the concentration level of ammonia that would be safe for use by the average person. In another suit, a drain cleaner manufacturer was found liable when the drain cleaner erupted upon contact with water after being poured into a drain. Other cases against the makers and sellers of toxic cleaners have been based on caustic burns caused by spilled cleaner, death from inhaling cleaning fumes, and injuries from exploding containers of cleaner.
In defending product liability actions, manufacturers and sellers of household chemicals sometimes claim contributory negligence or assumption of the risk. A contributory negligence defense is based on the theory that the user of the product was negligent in the way he or she used the product. For example, if a consumer used an ammonia-based cleaner in a very small room with no ventilation, a court may find that some of the fault can be attributed to the consumer’s improper use. In using an assumption of the risk defense, the manufacturer or seller might claim that the product is known to be dangerous to the average person and that the consumer who was injured by the product is not entitled to recovery because he or she accepted to take the risk posed by using the product.
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