While much of today’s political discussion involves social issues, most people rarely think about the critical laws that protect all of us. Having litigated product liability cases for years, I can say without hesitation that these laws, and our ability to seek justice when a company violates them, protect millions of lives throughout our country every single day. Many companies would cut corners if these laws and our ability to seek justice did not exist, and, too often, cutting corners costs innocent lives. These laws establish an equilibrium of sorts because they protect the assumptions we all make in our everyday lives. We rarely think about these assumptions because these laws exist and because to think otherwise can be too scary to even consider.
Unfortunately, product liability law, and the right to a trial by jury, are under attack. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oftentimes mistaken by the public as a branch of government instead of the corporate special interest group that it is, is constantly seeking to erode products liability law and the right to a trial by jury. They are not concerned with safety, but instead with further increasing corporate profits. We see in our practice on almost a daily basis the cost of these efforts – in money, pain and, many times, in human life.
Lawyers in our firm, and especially those in our Personal Injury & Products Liability and Mass Torts Sections, see this pain and heartbreak on a daily basis, and more often than not, the results can be catastrophic. They include instances where:
• Takata airbags explode and maim or kill occupants;
• Airbags fail to deploy;
• Defective seatbelts do not work during an accident;
• Tire defects cause blowouts, and ultimately, deadly rollovers;
• Poor automobile roof design leads to catastrophic roof crush;
• There is sudden, uncontrolled and unintended acceleration of vehicles;
• Ignition switch defects cause vehicles to stall at the worst possible time;
• Defective cab guards on heavy duty trucks allow loads to obliterate the driver’s cabin;
• There is faulty or compromised automobile reinforcement structure;
• Poor automobile fuel lines or lubricant storage design cause a vehicle to burst into flames;
• Pressure cookers, heaters and dishwashers burst into flames due to cheap component parts;
• Fire alarms fail to work;
• Poorly-designed hot tubs and baths trap and drown the elderly;
• Children’s toys are made with toxic substances, including lead paint;
• E-cigarettes and cell phones explode due to cheap parts or defective batteries;
• ATVs and golf carts roll over effortlessly and kill occupants (many have no roof reinforcement);
• Guardrails impale vehicles and their occupants instead of protecting them;
• Automobile occupant seats collapse or break;
• Automobile door latches fail, causing ejections from belted occupants;
• Diseased food severely sickens or kills;
• Firearms unexpectedly fire without initiating the trigger;
• Toxic cosmetic products, such as talc, cause cancer to users that were told the products were safe;
• Drugs with side effects cause strokes, heart attack or death, like Vioxx;
• Defective medical devices, like transvaginal mesh, fail and painfully affect the lives of tens of thousands of people;
• Defective heavy-duty equipment, such as a blowout preventer, contributes to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill;
• Products emit dangerous levels of radiation and cause cancer.
In our world of global commerce and trade, one defectively designed product can touch thousands, if not millions, of lives. Most of the time, recalls and corrective action can stop defects in new devices and sometimes catch old defective devices before they reach and hurt consumers but, too often, we find where these products have slipped through the cracks and hurt people notwithstanding corrective action. As a result, the best defense against product liability heartbreak is prevention, and that prevention is product liability law and enforcement. A strong, fair and independent judicial system is essential and absolutely necessary.
The American people should be able to assume that the products they use are safe. The water we drink, the food we eat, the automobiles we drive, the planes we fly, the air we breathe, the safety devices we believe will protect us, the consumer products we use – they all depend on the assumption they are safe. We must never take those assumptions (and the laws that allow us to make those assumptions) for granted.
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