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What is Planned Obsolescence? Can You Sue for Negligence?

By Butler Prather LLP on April 24, 2018

Product manufacturers have an obligation to consumers to provide safe and effective products that perform as advertised. Although businesses evolve and markets demand new products over time, some companies use a tactic known as “planned obsolescence” to drive revenue. A company may design a product to fail after a certain amount of time, typically shortly after the warranty period expires. This encourages consumers to purchase a replacement or a newer model of the product. But could planned obsolescence be considered a breach of product liability, based on U.S. regulations?

What are the Problems with this Practice?

Planned obsolescence poses several important issues. Primarily, consumers can reasonably call the practice predatory, especially when repairs or sturdier product construction would lead to longer-lasting products. Planned obsolescence also directly leads to more waste, which is especially problematic for electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers. “E-waste” is some of the most difficult waste to manage, and the amount of e-waste in the world has grown dramatically in the digital age. Apple has very recently been accused of this tactic, specifically about their iphone battery life. When companies develop electronics with planned obsolescence, older models quickly pile up in recycling centers and waste dumps.

Planned obsolescence may also cause some people to lose their jobs. Better-made products and repair services require employees to perform these manual tasks. Planned obsolescence essentially shifts a company’s resources that would typically go toward these positions to developing the next iteration of their products, instead. Over time, consumers may grow weary of having to replace a company’s products on a regular basis, and may abandon the brand entirely.

Can You Sue a Manufacturer for Planned Obsolescence?

The United States does not have any specific laws punishing the practice of planned obsolescence in consumer products. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission can choose to enforce durability standards for certain products. Some products subject to this type of regulation include prescription and over-the-counter medications, medical devices, appliances, car seats, baby beds and cribs, and many children’s products.

If a technology company decides to roll out a new device every year, you cannot sue them simply because you feel it is an unfair practice. The logic behind this is that no one is forcing consumers to upgrade, and if they choose to do so, they must pay for the upgrade. While it may be dubious, manufacturers have the right to release their products as they see fit. You can, however, file a product liability claim against a company that releases a dangerous or defective product. If a company wishes to use planned obsolescence, that is one thing. If the planned obsolescence leads to a dangerous breakdown of the product, the company should absorb liability for any resulting damages.

For example, a smartphone company releases a new device about a year after they released their previous model. The new device has many upgrades, but the older model still receives support from the manufacturer and performs at satisfactory levels for the market. This may be a type of planned obsolescence in that the company’s release of the new device renders the old model outdated. However, if the company designed the older model’s internal battery or other critical systems to fail after a certain time, they could face liability if the damaged components injure consumers.

Know Your Options!

If you believe a manufacturer intentionally included a defect or some form of planned obsolescence in a product, speak with an experienced product liability attorney, like those at the Atlanta personal injury firm Butler Prather LLP to see if you have any options for legal recourse. If the design flaw creates a hazardous issue with the product, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against the manufacturer. Many product manufacturers must adhere to warranty regulations, as well. If a manufacturer violates a warranty or fails to meet durability requirements, a lawyer can help you determine the best course of action. Call the team today! (404) 321-1700

Posted in: Defective Products

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