If you are injured by a dangerous or defective product, the law in Alabama at least since the 1970s had allowed suit against companies in what is called the “chain of distribution”—from the company who made the product right down to the local store where you purchased it and everyone in between. Historically, one of the ideas behind this approach to products liability lawsuits was simple:a company who profits from the sale of a dangerous and defective product should be held accountable.
Recently, however, the law in Alabama has changed. In June of this year, the Alabama legislature enacted amendments to sections 6-5-501 and 6-5-521, Alabama Code to limit the potential liability of sellers when they sell a defective or dangerous product. The goal of the legislation is clear: “to protect distributors who are merely conduits of a product.”
Specifically, the bill establishes that no product liability suit can be brought against a distributor, wholesaler, dealer, retailer, or seller of a product, unless certain criteria are met. For example, if the seller is also the manufacturer of the product or if the seller exercised substantial control over the design and manufacture of the product, then the seller may be held accountable, or if the seller somehow altered the product before selling it and that alteration caused the injury.
The law provides another exception to this blanket protection of distributors: if the plaintiff, after reasonable effort, is unable to identify the manufacturer of a product, then he or she is permitted to sue a distributor, wholesaler, retailer or seller. Of course, the distributor or seller itself might then provide the identity of the manufacturer at which point the lawsuit may continue only against the manufacturer, unless one of the other exceptions contemplating seller or distributor liability apply.