Some attorneys devote their practices to particular areas or field of laws, as distinguished from attorneys who pursue a general practice.
There are tax lawyers, family law lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, and many narrower sub-specialties upon which lawyers may focus their practice. Most consumers looking for an attorney know that they should seek out counsel who have particularized experience and knowledge in the area where the consumer needs representation. Many consumers do not know, however, that there are lawyers who focus their practice even more narrowly than categories such as “tax lawyer” or “divorce lawyer” would suggest.A criminal lawyer, for example, may handle only white collar crime and refer DUIs to another experienced professional.By the same token, there are personal injury lawyers who focus their practices entirely on defective automobile related products.There are typically many differences between product defect litigation involving personal injury or death and the standard personal injury lawsuit. Product defect cases require counsel to command much more technical knowledge than other types of injury cases, and because of their complexity require the involvement of often costly highly specialized engineering and other experts.Therefore, many personal injury attorneys, despite many years of practice, may not have the requisite experience to handle product failure cases specifically.
A number of challenges arise in the handling of product defect cases. The first challenge is identifying the defect that may form the basis for a case.It may sound obvious and straight-forward that identifying a defect is the first step to handling a product defect case, but a great deal of technical knowledge is often required to do this. Even a fairly straightforward seeming product failure such as a tire tread detachment can be the result of many different design and manufacturing problems, and determining the specific design and/or manufacturing flaws that caused the failure can be critically important to the ultimate success of the case.
Many attorneys also think that a tire manufacturer will readily accept fault for a tire that suffered a separated tread, but this is almost never the case. Internal experts and others employed by tire companies will typically blame tire misuse or road hazard for the failure.One particularly challenging issue to identify involves “crashworthiness” or whether a vehicle was appropriately designed to protect the occupants in a foreseeable crash.
The Ford Pinto exploding gas tank is a well known example of this concept. Most consumers reasonably expect that auto manufacturers take measures to design cars that do not explode on modest impact.
However, Ford came to the defense of the Pinto and alleged that the explosions were the result of factors beyond Ford’s control.
It took many highly trained experts and defect lawyers to overcome Ford’s defenses and obtain success and justice for the victims. And most consumers have no idea how many other vehicle systems can fail them and lead to preventable injury or death.
Additional system failures include defective seatbelts, mis-fired air bags, roofs that crush more than they should in a rollover, vehicle instability, etc. all of which may form the basis for seeking compensation in the event of a serious accident. Attorneys must discern which tragedies involved preventable automotive defects as opposed to just being unavoidable accidents, which is no easy task and mistakes can be costly.In order to take on large corporate defendants, a lawyer must be well qualified and have the necessary resources and experience.An essential component toward prevailing in a case is obtaining the internal company documents that identify the allegations in one’s lawsuit and disprove common defenses that a lawsuit if “frivolous” or seeks to hold the company to an impossible standard of care. One way to get sudden cooperation from a company towards settlement efforts is to identify a “smoking gun” document that sets forth that management was aware of a hazard but chose not to fix it in order to save a few cents and maximize profit. In an instant a nuisance case defense can turn into a “don’t bring a claim for punitive damages now that you know we were covering up a defect” settlement offer. However, corporations are often stubborn and experienced in the art of resistance thwarting the best efforts of plaintiff’s counsel to locate these smoking gun materials.It takes a lot more than simple desire and hard work to successfully obtain these critical materials. Access to qualified experts who can explain the product defect to the jury – and survive legal challenge based on credentials in the industry being sued – is another major hurdle for product defect litigation.
In fact, if a qualified expert is not involve and willing to testify against a product manufacturer, a case is not allowed to go forward in many jurisdictions.All too often an attorney will fall into the trap of retaining an expert who backs up the plaintiff’s position in the lawsuit but who does not meet the qualification threshold under a Court’s rigorous expert standards to render those opinions.An experienced product defect lawyer strives to meet all of these challenges and more, with the ultimate goal being to obtain justice for his or her clients.