Product liability cases are complex and different from ordinary injury cases. These cases can be brought under three broad legal theory categories, namely theory of negligence, theory of strict liability, and theory of breach of warranty, and are regulated by state laws. This implies that in a product liability case, the plaintiff can make more than one legal argument. So, it is important to discuss with an expert product liability attorney to craft the best strategy that is applicable for a specific case.
If a customer is injured due to the use of a defective or unreasonably dangerous product, he/she is entitled for compensation. In such cases, emphasis is given to the incidents that occur just after the accident. A preliminary investigation is performed by the attorney to know:
- The nature of the injury with specific focus on severity
- The cause of the injury
- Details of the product that caused damage
- Computation of financial loss incurred
It is the obligation of the companies that design, manufacture and distribute a product to ensure that it is safe for customers. Therefore, when a customer is harmed by a faulty product introduced in the market, a liability claim can be filed. Manufacturers, sellers, retailers, and distributors are the entities that are involved in the supply chain of a product and can be held accountable for the injury caused to the customers.
Following are the product defects that incur liability:
- Design defects: The defects that are inherent in the product from the beginning prior to its manufacturing.
- Manufacturing defects: Defects that happen during the process of manufacturing or assembling.
- Marketing defects: Flawed marketing of a product such as giving inadequate instructions or safety warnings, and improper labeling.
Technical evidence holds value in a product liability case. It can be explained better with the help of a case study involving a defective breast implant, mentioned in investopedia.com.
- The Dow Corning, a joint venture of The Dow Chemical Co. and Corning Inc. was sued in 1998 as part of a class-action suit by customers for selling defective silicone breast implants. Customers complained that the implants were rupturing and caused injury, bodily damage and scleroderma. The company agreed to pay $3.2 billion as compensation to the aggrieved parties of the case.
- In this particular case, the attorney had to prove that the defective product caused the above-mentioned injury to the customers. The inference that the product is responsible for causing the serious health condition is arrived at with the help of medical records analysis. This shows that medical records are a major technical evidence that helped the attorney substantiate the allegations.
What should an attorney prove in a product liability case?
Product liability cases come under mass tort and the injuries can be due to the illness or harmful side effects caused by a defective product.
The plaintiff’s attorney has to prove the following claims.
- The product is unreasonably dangerous.
- The defective product is the sole reason for the damage caused to the customer who expected the product to be safe for use.
- The victim was injured after using the product.
- The victim is experiencing pain, suffering and financial losses.
- For assessing the gravity of the injury and analyzing the technical facts about the product, attorneys consult experts for testimony and assistance. Quality experts like engineers, safety experts and medical professionals are consulted before the litigation process for successfully proving the plaintiff’s case.
Types of evidence required in a product liability case
There should be critical evidence that is technical in nature to back the claims.
- The defective product speaks for the victim
The doctrine of “resipsa loquitur” is applicable in some product liability cases. This Latin term means “the thing speaks for itself”. The victim must be able to establish that the defective product caused injury. So, the defective product is the vital evidence in a product liability case. It has to be preserved to exhibit before the court as this helps to claim that the product was manufactured in an unsafe manner. Also, this is a proof that the victim has not altered the product after purchasing it. If the product is devoid of warning instructions, exhibiting the product before the court can prove that there was no literature highlighting the safety of the product. This is critical in proving that the defendant has shown laxity regarding the strict compliance with the obligations.
- Medical records to show the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries
The victim’s medical record is considered as the crucial evidence and is used as definitive defense. These records are used by attorneys to build their case by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the lawsuit. Defendants ask for the victim’s medical record to find loopholes in the case. So, attorneys have to aggressively prepare for the litigation based on these records. Relevant information that helps the case is extracted, such as severity of the injury and it is scrupulously examined to identify whether the injury has caused disability or not. Medical records accessed by attorneys include:
- Admission information and admission history
- Discharge summary
- Physician’s inferences about the injury
- Information regarding physical examination
- Emergency room records
- Operating room records
- Lab reports
- Medicines administered
It is evident that product liability medical record review services help attorneys to get acquainted with complex medical terms. Deciphering of the medical terms is essential for the successful outcome of the lawsuit. Additionally, medical records help to have an estimate of the medical expenses incurred by the victim.
- Medical bills and bills of other expenses
It is obvious that when an injury is incurred, the victim rushes to the hospital to get immediate treatment and care. While undergoing treatment, the injured person has to bear the expenses of medicines, diagnostic tests etc. The total expenses incurred have to be computed and presented before the court to maximize compensation. In addition to the medical bills, the victim has to preserve other receipts of payments associated with the defective product.
- Photographs and videos
It is essential to capture photographs and videos at the scene of the accident. These constitute critical evidence to show the gravity of the injury and its impact on the victim’s life. It is important to collect as many photographs and videos as possible to claim compensation in proportion to the injury caused. Use the time stamp feature of the mobile phone to obtain an accurate timeline of the accident. Manufacturers post demo videos of the product on social media platforms like YouTube. These videos can be consulted to identify the flaws in the product. This can give useful perspectives for strengthening merits of the case.
- Accident Reports
These reports are significant to demonstrate the incidents that led to the accident. Accident reports are compiled and filed by law enforcement officers. Attorneys can access these official reports from the concerned law enforcement officers.
- Pay stubs and tax returns
These are another form of financial evidence to prove that there were economic losses due to the injury. Some injuries might prevent the victim from working for short or longer duration of time. Tax returns help to assess the money that has been spent and gives insight into future expenses.
- Insurance policy documents
Attorneys require the victim’s insurance policy to ensure that the medical bills covered under the policy are compensated.
- Evidence of product recalls and lawsuits
Attorneys perform research about the defective product to find evidence that the manufacturer was aware about the existing defect. Previous lawsuits filed against the product also have evidentiary value.
- Testimonies from eyewitnesses and experts
Statements from credible eyewitnesses can provide accuracy to the sequence of events that happened after the injury. Courts give these statements evidentiary value that supports the claims of the plaintiff. Testimonies from experts also play a very important role to strengthen the case.
The strength of the arguments alone cannot decide the outcome of the suit. The documentation helps the attorney to produce sufficient evidence, and medical records form the major part of the required documents. Analyzing and interpreting these records is a hectic process. However, with the assistance of a medical review services company, attorneys can channelize their expertise to strengthen the case and ensure that the plaintiff gets justice.