Can a Retailer Be Held Liable for Defective Products in Chicago?

When you purchase a product from a retailer, and it injures you, you may wonder, “Can a retailer be held liable for defective products?” Yes, you can hold a retailer liable for the harm that a defective product causes. Retailers are responsible for ensuring they only sell products that are safe for consumers. Knowing more about Illinois laws on faulty products and when retail businesses are held accountable for defective products sold will help you determine whether you have a product liability claim against a retailer in Chicago.

Shopping cart inside a supermarket. Can a retailer be held liable for defective products.

If you’re unsure whether retailer liability applies to your case, call the Chicago product liability attorneys at Ankin Law at 312-600-0000 for help.

What Is the Retailer’s Role in Product Liability Cases in Illinois?

When consumers purchase items, they expect them to function safely and properly as advertised. Unfortunately, many defective products are sold to consumers. Faulty products that commonly injure consumers, leading to product liability claims, include medical devices, cars and auto parts, children’s products, medicines, foods, and household products. Victims of defective product accidents can hold the liable party accountable for their damages.

People tend to consider manufacturers or designers the at-fault parties in defective product cases. Nevertheless, other third parties may also be responsible for the injuries caused by a defective product. Take the example of medical devices, which are among the most common faulty products involved in product liability lawsuits. The device manufacturer seems to be the obvious at-fault party you should go after as an injury victim. However, several other parties could be liable for injuries. This begs the question: are medical device distributors liable? Can a retailer be held liable for defective products, considering retailers are normally the last link in the distribution chain of a product?

In Illinois, any party involved in the chain of distribution of a product until it reaches the end consumer can be responsible for the injuries caused by a defective product. Distributors and retailers play a critical role in a product’s chain of distribution. As a result, you could also hold them responsible for damages caused by a product in Chicago.

Retailer’s Duty to Sell Safe Products to Consumers

Retailers have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care toward consumers and ensure the items they advertise and display online and on their shelves are safe to use and defect-free. When retailers stock an item for sale and advertise it to consumers, they imply that it is safe and suitable for use. Therefore, they may be liable if a defect in the product causes injury to the user or someone else, even if he or she isn’t the person who bought the product.

Retailers are required to protect consumers by taking the appropriate actions once they’re aware of defects associated with the products they’re selling. They can, for example, withdraw the goods from sale or return them to the manufacturer. A retail outlet could be held responsible for the defects if it didn’t take any action to avert the potential danger.

The Importance of Proper Product Labeling and Warnings

The label on a product provides critical information on the correct ways to use the product according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Warning labels inform consumers of potential hazards, their effects, and how to avoid them. Products that aren’t properly labeled with sufficient instructions and safety warnings can lead to injuries for users. There are many product liability claims filed due to improper labeling.

A retailer can be held liable if you’re harmed by a product sold without adequate instructions or warnings. Retailers could repackage or modify products, removing important labels in the process and making the products unsafe. Poor retail quality control could allow some products to be sold without verification of the appropriate merchandise labeling. Retailers could also knowingly sell an inherently dangerous or defective product without taking reasonable steps to provide adequate instructions and warnings. In all these instances, retailers could face liability for defective products and the resulting injuries and damages.

How Can You Establish Retailer Liability in Illinois?

The burden proof typically rests on injury victims in product liability cases. The plaintiff needs to present evidence showing the defendant’s liability for the harm suffered due to the defective product. The following are the two main legal theories under which retailers can be held liable for the harm caused by defective products.

Strict Liability

You can hold a retailer liable for damages under strict liability. Strict liability claims focus primarily on the product sold by the defendant being inherently or unreasonably dangerous rather than the standard of behavior of the party involved in selling the product. Therefore, you and your product liability lawyer don’t have to prove that the defendant was negligent to win a strict liability claim. Most product liability claims in Illinois are pursued under the strict liability theory.

To receive compensation under strict liability, you’ll have to prove that:

  • The retailer sold an unreasonably dangerous product
  • Your injury resulted from the condition or defect of the product that the retailer sold
  • The dangerous condition or defect existed when the product left the retailer’s control


You can also hold a retailer liable for damages by proving negligence on the retailer’s part when selling a damaged or potentially dangerous product. Under the negligence theory, you’ll have to show that the retailer was reckless or careless. You also must show that the retailer’s negligence caused your injuries. Your injuries have to be foreseeable according to the type of product used and the defect. You’ll also need to prove that you suffered one or more compensable injuries.

A retail business can be said to be negligent if it sells an item it knew or should’ve known was defective. For example, a manufacturer may issue a voluntary recall for a particular product and ask a retailer to remove the product from store shelves because of a defect. Agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) can recall a product because it’s defective or potentially dangerous. If the retailer ignores the recall and continues to sell the product, the retailer could be liable for negligence.

A retailer could know a product is defective even without a recall being issued. For instance, the retailer could have noticed when a shipment arrived that a particular product or batch had defects but chose to sell it. The retailer could be found negligent if a client is injured by the product.

You can also use negligence to hold a retail store liable if the retailer caused the defect. Some products in a retail store require special care, such as temperature control. Food items shouldn’t be sold after their sell-by date. Retailers can be held responsible for their negligence if a defect occurs because of a lack of quality checks or poor handling or storage by the retailer.

When Should You Hire a Product Liability Lawyer?

If a dangerous or defective product caused you harm and you want to seek compensation from the liable parties, it’s crucial to work with a product liability lawyer. Winning defective product cases requires knowledge of Illinois product liability law and experience in dealing with big companies. You’ll require legal and technical knowledge to identify defendants and prove fault.

An experienced product liability attorney in Chicago will trace the defective product’s chain of distribution to identify the party or parties that bear the most responsibility for your injuries. The attorney will help you gather the necessary evidence and determine the legal theories to apply to your case. He or she will also call upon medical and technical experts and use their testimony to strengthen your case.

It’s also important to talk to a product liability lawyer when you suspect that an injury or illness was caused by a dangerous or defective product. Keep in mind that an injury or illness due to a defective product doesn’t always occur immediately. It could occur over time, as has been the case with a number of women who were diagnosed with cancer after years of using hair straightening products.

At this point, you might be asking, “Can hair straighteners cause cancer?” Recent studies have linked hair straighteners to several cancers. As a result, women who’ve used hair straighteners and later received cancer diagnoses have been filing product liability lawsuits. The first such lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for Northern Illinois in Chicago.

Once you’ve reached out to a product liability lawyer and had a discussion about your suspicions of having sustained defective product injuries, the lawyer will thoroughly investigate your case. The investigations will reveal whether you should pursue a lawsuit and help link your injury or illness to the defective product. Your lawyer will help you determine your next steps.

Types of Damages Available

You can recover a variety of damages from the parties involved in the chain of distribution if you’re successful in your product liability claim in Chicago. Economic and non-economic losses resulting from a defective product are compensable.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the tangible financial losses resulting from the product defect. They have specific monetary values, making them easier to quantify. The economic damages you may qualify for include:

  • Medical expenses for past and future treatments
  • Lost wages when you’re unable to work due to your injuries and recovery
  • Lost earning capacity if the injuries from the defective product will prevent you from returning to your job
  • Mobility equipment and modifications to your house or car

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages cover the intangible personal losses suffered because of the product defect. They compensate injury victims for the psychological impact of their injuries. They include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, scarring, and disfigurement.

Punitive Damages

Judges and juries can award punitive damages in product liability lawsuits involving defects that resulted from intentional or reckless actions. Punitive damages are awarded to financially punish a company and deter it and others from engaging in misconduct similar to what led to a victim’s injuries.

Our product liability lawyers at Ankin Law will identify and consider all the losses you sustained when calculating the amount of compensation that would be fair in your product liability case. We’ll draw on our vast experience and negotiation skills to engage the at-fault parties and their insurance companies and help you secure maximum compensation. Contact us today to arrange a free case evaluation.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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