By Gregory H. Haubrich
Attorney at Law
In 1989, Ed Abel and I got a verdict for $10,000,000.00 in a product liability case against Black & Decker. Our client had been burned over most of his body and was horribly scarred due to a defect in an electrical tool which sparked a fire and explosion. At the time it was the highest verdict in the history of Oklahoma for an injured person.
When the jury foreman read out the amount, Ed didn’t hear them right. He whispered, “Greg, did they say a million?” I answered: “No, Ed, they said ten million.” (Yippee. Promise you our client had all of that coming. I would not trade ten million dollars for what happened to him.)
There are three kinds of product defects: design defects, manufacturing defects, and warnings and instruction defects. Product defects are based on strict liability. You don’t have to prove that the manufacturer or seller was negligent, only that the product was more dangerous than the ordinary user or consumer of the product would expect.
Although it sounds simple, of course it’s not. Products cases are based on engineering principles, so you have to have experts like engineers and human factors types to test, evaluate, and render opinions on why the product is dangerous and caused your client’s injury.
I have handled product liability cases since I started practicing law. I like them because they are challenging and I always learn some new tricks working with experts and digging into the background of the particular product. Examples include:
- a trampoline (did you know that both orthopedic doctors and pediatricians have issued position statements that trampolines are too dangerous to be sold for recreational use?);
- medical implants like artificial hips and breast implants;
- a handicapped shower chair that collapsed;
- tools that sparked explosions (three different cases, it happens more than you might think);
- a defective oil rig whose design took off a man’s legs;
- chemical insecticides (chlordane and Dursban, which are now both banned in the United States);
- WD-40 (do NOT spray that stuff anywhere near anything which may have an electric arc — it WILL explode);
- the gas-tank design of a riding lawn mower (they are supposed to be grounded or they can ignite from static charges);
- a luxury car which caught on fire in the engine compartment and then locked the driver inside the car so she couldn’t get out while it burned;
- a collapsing ladder.
There are a tremendous number of government and industry standards and regulations that have to be looked at in any product liability case. Manufacturers and sellers of products usually claim that they made the product in accordance with established practices. That may be true, but just because something has always been done this way doesn’t mean that’s how it SHOULD be done. If that were the case, man would never progress.
It is a simple fact that products in America are vastly safer now than they were a few decades ago, and much of that improvement is due to the effects of product liability cases in which juries have determined that manufacturers failed to take into account inherent dangers in their products and design those dangers out of the products.
When you need a product liability injury attorney to fight for you in court against the big boys, contact me. Your initial case evaluation is always free.