Product Liability: A Moral and Ethical Issue Product Liability: A Moral and Ethical Issue INTRODUCTION Product/service malfunction or failure is an inevitable outcome in manufacturing and service industries. While even employing and fully benefitting from six sigma practices, the most optimistic operational output is still bound to have at least 3.4 parts of failure for every million (Meredith & Shafer, 2012). Each year, statistics would claim that 34 million people are injured or killed as a direct result to product failure. Andre (1991) even stated that this incidence rate is even higher as compared to the fatalities caused by cancer or heart disease, and tens of thousands of lawsuits are filed each year against companies.
This is also aggravated by the fact that in the advent of competitive marketing and aggressive product development, companies are “not getting better at designing and launching reliable new products for the market place” (Gooden, 2010). Thus, it is more than conclusive to note that this is a significant issue to be addressed by the industries and liabilities regarding these cases should be clearly defined.
This is not merely an issue about product reliability and improving the operations in order to minimize defects, but more so, this is also about not only the legal but also the ethical and moral responsibilities that a company faces and owes to their consumers. ETHICS IN PRODUCTION DESIGN A crucial and integral part in new product development is the designing of the product. It is not surprising that high failure rate is mostly observed during the infancy or introductory stage of the product since this is the stage where the design is first marketed to the costumers and therefore this is where most flaws of the design arises since this stage serves as the fine tuning of the product(Heizer & Render, 2011).
This stage is also where engineering design is at its most crucial juncture. And, obviously, design engineers are the ones that are held accountable for this these designs. Engineers are bound by ethical and moral responsibility in their line of work. A moral responsibility is defined as “exercising judgment and care to achieve or maintain a desirable state of affair” (Herkert, 2003).
Herkert also elaborates that, in this case, the desired state of affairs for a design engineer, or for any employee that is knowledgeable of the workings of the design of the product, is to create a “useful and safe technological products while respecting the autonomy of clients and the public, especially in matters of risk taking”. Although this is of an ethical and moral aspect, this is also bound as a professional responsibility. Therefore, in manner of association, once an individual realizes that the organization’s product or services may violate the safety and put the customer at risk, it is his obligation to ensure that countermeasures are being taken in order to avoid accidents and significant risks from happening.
It would be tantamount also to a breach in professional oath if an individual chooses to keep silent regarding such matter and choose to obstruct the public from being aware of such risks that can be caused by faulty the products, notwithstanding the consequences to one’s conscience as being a prime factor of such fatalities that might happen for choosing to stay passive.
THE PRODUCT AND THE COMPANY’S LIABILITY Between the tens and thousands of lawsuits is the argument on whether who should be taking more of the responsibility. The manufacturers should, and rightly so, be sued for the damages that were caused by products that are known already known to be defective or potentially dangerous. But because of the increase of new products due to the advancement in technology, many lawsuits of product failures were because of factors that the company had no control and could not have been able to predict.
This causes dilemma and resulted from promising products to be halted it its development for fear of companies of the backlash that the new product will entail due to liability causes, since virtually every new product has unknown and unforeseeable risks (Andre, 1991). In such case, it is argued, that society should share the burden of the consequences of these unforeseeable risks. While this may sound illogical at first reading, it is counterproductive to burden a company to test every single possible scenario for the product to fail.
It would also significantly delay the production and introduction of the product to society, which could have be beneficial. As such, under these circumstances, manufacturers argue that it is morally unjust to hold them liable for something that they could not have been able to prevent. Let this be highlighted, since it is the manufacturers themselves that defined what is moral in their line of production. In the same light, it should be fully noted that it is morally just to hold the manufacturers liable for factors that were known to them but choose to ignore that directly resulted to a product’s failure and consequential damage to society.
The company should do whatever is necessary to ensure that public damage is minimized, if not avoided and eliminated, in cases wherein there is an inherent flaw in their products. It is also important that a company practices measures to improve and properly identify the flaws in their product design by employing DMAIC and Six Sigma practices (Meredith & Shafer, 2012). CONCLUSION From the development of a product, it is established that the individuals involved have a professional oath to ensure that the products are as safe as possible and no harm is to befall the consumers to the best of their knowledge.
Working with this premise, a company, composed of such individuals having professional oaths as aforementioned, also has the ethical and moral obligation to society to take measures to avoid harm or fatality to the user. Personally, the author feels that it is only humane and proper to be concerned of the safety and health of others especially if the individual is directly responsible in creating goods or services for other people.
By ignoring danger signs and not reporting them to proper authorities is parallel to being liable and guilty of the risks and accidents that will come about. References Andre, C., & Velasquez, M. (1991). Who should pay? The product liability debate. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Gooden, (2010). Lawsuit! Reducing the risk of product liability for manufacturers. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Heizer, J. & Render, B. (2011). Operations management (10th ed. ). Boston: Prentice Hall.