A recent Alabama Supreme Court case made a precedent-setting ruling against the retail seller of an herbal supplement. Answering a question from a United States District Court about Alabama law, the decision discussed whether the herbal supplement retail seller could successfully assert the “sealed container” defense in a claim for breach of implied warranty. Implied warranty claims are a type of product liability law based on a seller’s statutory obligation to assure that a product is “merchantable” or fit for a particular purpose. “Merchantable” means that the product or goods must at least be fit enough for the ordinary purposes for which the products or goods are used. This obligation arises from the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which most states, including Alabama, adopted during the 1960s. Other types of product liability law, such as “strict liability,” were adopted into law by many states during the 1960s and 1970s. Alabama courts adopted a variation of product liability law called “Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine,” which, together with negligence, wantonness, and warranty claims, are generally the basis for actions against manufacturers and sellers of defective products today.
In this recent case, the herbal supplement seller argued that, even if the product was defective, it should have no responsibility because it sold it in a “sealed container.” The court disagreed, stating that Alabama’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code did not specifically provide for such a defense in implied warranty cases. For further discussion of product liability law in Alabama, see Chapter 19, Alabama Tort Law (4th Edition Lexis Law Publishing, 2004) by Michael L. Roberts.