You read headlines like these all the time:
- $110 Million Slemp Talc Verdict
- GM Loses Ignition Switch Appeal
- Takata Sued After Recalling Even MORE Airbags
But what do these lawsuits mean for the individuals involved in them? What was the process that led up these headlines? What did the people who are actually suing these companies have to go through to get to this point?
In the next several posts, I will talk about the various aspects of product liability lawsuits and what considerations go into each one. In this post, I talk about the decisions leading up to filing and what is involved in the process.
Every Case Is Different...
Of course, no two lawsuits are exactly alike. Even in cases where the plaintiffs have filed a claim over the same consumer product, drug, harmful medical device, or other item, the reasons for filing can vary to some degree, as can the actual harm that the person experienced.
For example, one person may file a Xarelto lawsuit because they experienced serious internal bleeding, while another may do so because they were cut, and unable to stop the severe bleeding, one of the side effects of Xarelto, because the anticoagulant has no antidote. In each situation, individuals suffered uncontrollable bleeding, but both cases were different.
This is why it is important to have an experienced lawyer on your side, because he or she will have seen all of the variations that can come up and will know which little things could either make or break your case. Finding a lawyer who has been involved in lawsuits similar to yours can mean the difference in losing out - or getting the compensation you deserve.
...But the Goals Are the Same
While the specifics of each product liability case may vary significantly, every case will generally have a similar set of goals, including:
- Receiving compensation for injuries and costs incurred by the defective product, drug, or medical device;
- Holding the manufacturer, marketer, and other responsible parties accountable for creating harmful products;
- Changing industry practices and standards to ensure that future products do not hurt others.
With that in mind, the high-level phases of a product liability trial will often be the same as well.
Deciding to File a Complaint
Before even going to trial, the most important step is deciding whether to file a complaint. Many people avoid talking to a lawyer until they've fully made up their minds, relying instead on the advice and experience of family members, friends, coworkers, and other acquaintances who may have gone through the legal process before them.
However, because each case is different, another person's experience with product liability litigation may not be a good reflection of how your own case will go. Even if that person filed a lawsuit for the same exact product that you are considering, differences in your circumstances could mean very different outcomes. Some such differences include:
- The state in which you plan to file your claim
- How much harm the product caused you
- The amount you paid to repair or replace the malfunctioning or defective product
- The cost of medical expenses related to any injuries caused by the product
Because there are so many things to consider, reputable product liability attorneys will generally offer a free consultation to go over the details with you and determine the likelihood that you will be able to receive compensation. Note that while a lawyer can't actually tell you if you will definitely win your case, he or she can only make a determination about the strength of your case based on the various factors they look at.
After the initial consultation, it is still up to you to decide whether you want to file your complaint. Usually, at that point you will hire your lawyer by signing a contract. Again, a reputable product liability lawyer will usually receive money only if they are successful in helping you receive compensation, so you will not need to pay anything up front.
Once the decision to file a lawsuit is made and an attorney is hired, the next task is to pull together the documentation and other evidence required to file the actual complaint. This involves a lot of research on your lawyer's part, and will likely involve some of your own research to be done as well.
The specific pieces of documentation you need will depend on what type of product is at the center of your suit. Some common types of documentation include:
- Receipts or other proofs of purchase for the product itself
- Any original warranty or guarantee information that came with the product
- The defective product itself, if available
- Design documents, schematics and other technical details of the product
- Pictures or video of any injuries you suffered by using the product
- Medical records related to injuries or illnesses caused by the product
- Interviews or depositions from witnesses and experts
For example, someone who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer caused by talcum powder would need to gather any and all documentation they could to show their historical use of the substance before filing a talcum powder lawsuit. It may also be necessary to produce the medical diagnosis, and any bills they paid related to the treatment of their cancer.
Other evidence may be required as well, and the more proof you have, the stronger your case will be. At this stage, your lawyer will help you gather anything and everything that can convince a jury that the product, drug, or medical device caused an injury or death.
Next Steps: Filing the Lawsuit
Deciding to file and gathering your evidence is the beginning in a product liability lawsuit. Next comes actually filing your case, the discovery phase, and the pretrial motions that typically get filed before the trial actually begins. I will explore all of these things in my next post.