In today’s global economy, product manufacturers and distributors face a dizzying array of overlapping and sometimes contradictory laws and regulations around the world. A basic familiarity with international product liability is essential to doing business in this environment. An understanding of the international framework will provide thoughtful manufacturers and distributors with a strategic advantage in this increasingly competitive area. This treatise sets out a general overview of product liability in key jurisdictions around the world, giving manufacturers a place to start in assessing their potential liability and exposure.

Readers of this publication will see that each country’s product liability laws reflect a delicate balance between protecting consumers and encouraging risk-taking and innovation. This balance is constantly shifting through new legislation, regulations, treaties, administrative oversight and court decisions. But the overall trajectory seems clear: as global wealth, technological innovation and consumer knowledge continue to increase, so will the cost of product liability actions.

This edition reflects a few of these trends from 2016. Notably, many jurisdictions saw an increase in both mandatory and voluntary product recalls across various industries. In India, for instance, several global car manufacturers initiated voluntary recalls of vehicles owing to various product defects, such as emissions systems that violated environmental norms. This unprecedented rise in voluntary vehicle recalls spawned legislation known as the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill, currently pending approval in the Indian Parliament, that would for the first time mandate vehicle recalls under certain conditions. Several jurisdictions also saw a proliferation of class actions in product liability contexts. In July, the Collective Claims Act came into force in Japan, enabling small consumer claims to be aggregated and pursued by ‘certified organisations', which are required to disburse to consumers 50 per cent or more of the claims recovered from business operators. This edition also highlights how certain countries’ product liability laws have grappled with novel issues in the modern economy, ranging from e-commerce (e.g., the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice’s conclusion that internet search providers cannot be held liable for defective products marketed through their websites) to emerging technologies (e.g., Australia’s interim ban on self-balancing scooters or ‘hoverboards’). Although these changes and trends may be valuable in their own right, they also create a need for greater vigilance on the part of manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

This edition covers 22 countries and territories and includes a high-level overview of each jurisdiction’s product liability framework, recent changes and developments, and a look forward at expected trends. Each chapter contains a brief introduction to the country’s product liability framework, followed by four main sections: regulatory oversight (describing the country’s regulatory authorities or administrative bodies that oversee some aspect of product liability); causes of action (identifying the specific causes of action under which manufacturers, distributors or sellers of a product may be held liable for injury caused by that product); litigation (providing a broad overview of all aspects of litigation in a given country, including the forum, burden of proof, potential defences to liability, personal jurisdiction, discovery, whether mass tort actions or class actions are available and what damages may be expected); and the year in review (describing recent, current and pending developments affecting various aspects of product liability, such as regulatory or policy changes, significant cases or settlements and any notable trends).

Whether the reader is a company executive or a private practitioner, we hope that this edition will prove useful in navigating the complex world of product liability and alerting you to important developments that may affect your business.

We wish to thank all of the contributors who have been so generous with their time and expertise. They have made this publication possible. We also wish to thank our colleagues Madison Kitchens and Jordan Raymond, who have been invaluable in assisting us in our editorial duties.

Chilton Davis Varner and Bradley W Pratt
King & Spalding and The Pratt Law Firm
United States
March 2017