Product liability

The Thalidomide Tragedy

The Death and Afterlife of Thalidomide
New York Times Retro Report
This report tells you more about the history of Thalidomide and the associated tragedy (see chapter 12, section 12.2.2 ) as well as the story since the tragedy. WARNING: video link contains scenes that some may find distressing.

The Shadow of Thalidomide
New York Times Retro Report

In September 2012 Gruenenthal, the German company credited with the invention of Thalidomide, issued its first apology in 50 years – but this didn’t go down well with those affected by the drug:

German thalidomide maker Gruenenthal issues apology

Thalidomide apology insulting, campaigners say (this also contains a video)

‘Thalidomide: The Fifty Year Fight’
A movie documentary on the Thalidomide tragedy, originally aired on BBC2 and now available via Box of Broadcasts [institutional subscription or registration required]:

The McDonald’s coffee lawsuit

'And Now, The Rest Of The Story... About The McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit', The Houston Lawyer, July/August 2007
This article by Kevin G. Cain explains and defends the decision in the controversial American product liability 'hot coffee' case of Liebeck v McDonald's:

Also see this video, the often untold side of the story:
Scalded by Coffee, Then News Media, New York Times video,

The Truth About the McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit

The Stella Awards were established in reaction to Liebeck v McDonald's – an interesting take on the original case can be found at and the whole site is often amusing/enlightening

Also see this trailer for a US (HBO) documentary movie called ‘Hot Coffee’

Product recalls

In April 2013, following a high-profile recall of several makes of Japanese cars because of potentially faulty airbags, many news articles explained what this meant for consumers:

Japan carmakers recall 3 million vehicles over airbag fault

Japanese car recall: how are UK consumers affected?

Worth noting also that Toyota had already recalled 7 million cars towards the end of 2012 for a different problem!

Toyota recalls 7m cars worldwide over window fault

In the wake of the huge scale Japanese car recall in March/April 2013, Reuters helpfully provided a timeline of similar motoring problems occurring over the past few years: Major global car recalls – timeline

Also in April 2013, household electronics manufacturer Hotpoint was criticised for not warning consumers quickly enough (it had taken 6 months since the company first knew of the problem and over 12 months since concerns had been raised by consumer organisation Which?) about over 70,000 potentially dangerous dishwashers:

Hotpoint recalls dishwashers due to fire risk

Hotpoint recalls 71,000 dishwashers over fire fears

Looking from the other side, in the light of the ‘horsemeat scandal’ a site looking at product recalls gives some fairly horrific insights into the ‘mistakes’ producers can make (particularly no. 3, 4, 10 and 11): 12 product recalls that will make you pause before your next purchase

Consumer rights

Citizens’ advice offers advice on what rights consumers have (and don’t have) and how to make complaints.

The organisation Which? publishes lots of advice for consumers on their rights – for example in the context of buying faulty goods.

Citizens’ advice bureaux can provide help to consumers with a variety of problems, including shopping complaints. See the section on consumer affairs in particular.

Summaries of European legislation and policies in relation to consumers and consumer safety can be found on the Europa site:

A consultation on the Product Liability Directive was launched in 2017:
European Commission Launches Consultation to Evaluate the Product Liability Directive

A look to the future, particularly with Brexit in mind and what that may mean for consumer protection:
‘50 predictions: Product Liability, Safety & Recall’

More for the future – considering self-drive cars!
'Bryant Smith, 'Automated Driving and Product Liability''

More for the future – considering the ‘Internet of things’
Product liability and the internet of things


Donoghue v Stevenson [1932]

Grant v Australian Knitting Mills Ltd [1936]

Abouzaid v Mothercare (UK) Ltd [2000]

A and others v National Blood Authority [2001]

Commission of the European Communities v United Kingdom (EC v UK) [1997]

Howmet Ltd v Economy Devices Ltd & Ors [2016]

Back to top