Many different forms of law practice have sprung up in conjunction with changes in our society. Like the concept of the law itself, these areas are designed to protect citizens from various dangers and pitfalls that they may encounter in society. For instance, car accident and personal injury focused law was developed as a result of advances in technology that made such injuries possible. In the same way, product liability law has been developed as changes in the consumer marketplace have led to a massive proliferation of products, some of which may be dysfunctional, defective or downright dangerous. The recent slew of vehicle recalls undertaken by General Motors have shot the concept of auto defects into the public spotlight, but there is quite a bit that goes into product liability as a whole.

One major component of product liability law focuses on pharmaceutical drugs and other products in the medical field, the sales of which account for thousands of injuries to U.S. consumers each year. Other areas, such as food liability and possible dangers in kids’ and baby products, also receive a large share of the legal focus. After all, products that fail us when we are most vulnerable–for instance, by failing to do what they are supposed to when we are ill or injured–deserve to have their legal status challenged, so that other consumers do not have to face the same dangers.

There are a few major categories that determine the type of defect for which legal action can be brought. The first, design defects, encompass any flaw in a product’s intentional design–that is, at the product’s very inception–that makes it unsafe or unreasonably dangerous. The second, manufacturing defects, cover any deficiency that takes place after the design and during manufacturing–meaning that something in the fabrication process didn’t follow the proper plan. The third category is that of marketing defects, which covers products that are intentionally misrepresented by marketing or promotional materials–“false advertising,” in other words, with dangerous consequences.

But since a lawsuit needs to find a party at fault in order to render judgment one way or another, liability has to be established. Legal fault is tough to establish, and requires a plaintiff to be able to connect a defect in a product with the parties that designed, manufactured or marketed it. What’s more, they need to show that they used the product in exactly the way it was intended–in the (theoretically) safe way for which it was sold. If the consumer did everything correctly and the product was still faulty, the liability rests with the manufacturer. However, proving that the consumer altered the product or used it in an irresponsible way is a common and often successful defense in these types of cases.