Choking hazard claims are a specific sub-category of product liability lawsuits, and most frequently are filed by parents on behalf of an injured child.
Every parent that has bought a set of building blocks, a board game or any other toy for their young child has read a label warning that the product is a potential choking hazard. And the dangers here are very real. As any parent will tell you, there’s no way of knowing what a small child will put in their mouth.
Product liability law in the United States has evolved to a point where manufacturers of toys and other products -- and in some cases, the distributors and sellers of these products -- are required to warn consumers of the potential choking hazards associated with products that meet certain federally-mandated requirements.
If your child chokes on a product that is not appropriately labeled, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover damages for any injuries sustained. And if you choke on a product while using it in the manner it was intended, you may be able to file a suit for your injuries as well, regardless of your age.
The United States Consumer Products Safety Commission, through both the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, determines (on a national level) what categories of products require choking hazard warnings.
There are specific, detailed regulations for toys and other products that are intended for use by children under the age of three, and more general warnings for products intended for older consumers. The regulations apply to manufacturers as well as suppliers and retailers (both online and “brick-and-mortar”).
Depending on the law of your jurisdiction, an appropriate warning could absolve a manufacturer or supplier/retailer of some or all liability in a choking case. There is a wide variety of product liability laws from state to state, and even from industry to industry, so a lot will depend on the specific facts of your case and the law in place where you live.
As a general rule, if you are using a product in the manner in which it was intended to be used and you or your child chokes on it and sustains injuries, you may wish to explore your legal options. Many jurisdictions impute some form of strict liability on manufacturers and/or resellers when it comes to defective products. This means that you may not even have to prove that the manufacturer or reseller was negligent -- the injury itself is evidence of a defective product, and the manufacturer and/or reseller will be held strictly liable for the damage their product caused.
While the majority of choking hazard injuries involve ingestion of a particular product, there are also numerous horror stories involving both adults and children choking because of defective articles of clothing, household items such as mini-blind draw strings, and various other products. Do not make the mistake of thinking your case has no merit just because it does not involve an internal choking situation.
Product liability cases are some of the most hotly-contested cases in the country. The ability of manufacturers and resellers to bring defective products to market is equaled only by the ability of the American public to injure themselves by using (properly or improperly) those same products. But legitimate injuries are not uncommon, and the results of defective products that pose choking hazards -- particularly when children are involved -- can be catastrophic. If you think a defective product caused you or a loved one to choke or otherwise sustain an injury, you might want to contact an experienced local attorney to discuss your options.