An article published by Santa Clara University estimates that 34 million people are injured or killed annually due to product related accidents, causing $12 billion in costs. These incidents have spawned numerous lawsuits, requiring the use of hundreds of product liability expert witnesses. Product liability lawsuits can be a burden on manufactures and retailers, but they actually help set safety standards for consumers.
These lawsuits involve people from different life stages, recent examples:
- Infant Products:
- There’s a recent suit against the manufacturer of an infant shoulder sling has reportedly settled for $8 million. The case involves the suffocation death of a seven and a half week old baby.
- A series of baby strollers are being recalled, and their manufacturers being sued, due to a wide variety of alleged injuries to infants and children, including lacerations and strangulation.
- Recreational product: Toys R Us is appealing a $20.6 million verdict in the case of a 29 year old man killed in an accident involving an inflatable pool slide.
- Mass consumer product: Johnson & Johnson changed the label for Tylenol and added the new “red cap warning” as a result of consumer overdose and product liability lawsuits.
The fact a person is injured while using a product is not enough to prove a product liability case. It needs to be based on negligence principles and/or a breach of warranty claim. The breach of warranty claim means the products have an implied warranty they’re safe to use for their intended purposes. If the product is not reasonably fit for its intended purpose, that may be a breach of warranty creating the basis for a damages claim if a person is injured as a result of that breach.
Expert witnesses are key to proving, or disproving, a product liability claim. In a baby stroller case, an infant product design expert witness would need to examine the stroller, conduct tests, and review its specifications and reports of incidents. Ideally, the product liability expert witness should have an engineering degree with at least a decade of professional experience in product design. He or she should be a leading figure in the industry and knows the standards set forth by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and relevant trade associations. The expert is expected to come up with a report and opinion about the safety of the product in question. Only a qualified expert witness is allowed to give an opinion on these very technical issues.
When selecting an expert witness, the attorney should keep in mind that the product liability expert needs to be able to convey technical safety concept to a lay person juries. Whether you are representing the consumer or the manufacturer in a product liability case, hiring an expert witness can help your client achieve a fair settlement and create a safer next generation product.
By: Rodney Warner, J.D.