People have some pretty extreme ideas and opinions about lawsuits. On one end of the spectrum, there are individuals that believe a lawsuit is a horrible, evil mechanism that allows people to unjustly cheat others out of money. These individuals tend to view lawsuits as frivolous and assume a smooth-talking lawyer could help anyone with a paper cut win millions of dollars in emotional damages.
On the other extreme end, there are people that believe their injuries are worth exorbitant amounts simply because an injury occurred. They might be the person that is trying to sue for millions of dollars in emotional damages. You'll recognize these people as the ones screaming about suing because someone messed up their chicken McNugget order.
Neither group is correct. Pursuing lawsuits, particularly those that involve defective or dangerous products requires substantial losses.
To get a better understanding of product liability lawsuits in particular work, I spoke with attorney Michael Grossman and here is how he says things really work.
Any personal injury lawsuit requires a victim to have sustained real losses due to someone else's carelessness. As a practical matter, the bar is even higher in product liability lawsuits, because of the additional steps necessary to overcome the obstacles manufacturers can put in a victim's way, as part of a defendant's right to mount an effective defense.
Lawsuits Aren't About Pyrrhic Victories
Technically, any injury bad enough to require a Band-Aid creates a real loss, which is a necessary condition for an injury lawsuit. None of us have ever heard of a lawsuit the recover the 33-cent cost of a Band-Aid because it costs more to file a lawsuit with the court than the Band-Aid costs. In this circumstance, the loss doesn't justify the time and expense of a lawsuit.
This is the biggest reason that a victim's injuries have to be substantial to justify a product liability lawsuit. There are a lot of costs associated with such lawsuits.
Let's Look at an Example Scenario
Say you are driving along listening to music when your tire suddenly blows out. Then your car goes off the side of the road, flips, and crashes into a ditch. Soon after the wreck, you entertain the idea of suing the tire's manufacturer. To sue the manufacturer, an expert witness will need to take possession of the tire and send it to a lab for testing. The tests they perform, the reports the tests generate, and the eventual testimony these experts provide may end run into the high-five or low-six figures. That is a huge expense, but it is absolutely necessary. Without it, there probably isn't enough evidence to even get the case in front of a jury.
Let’s Revisit the Initial Question
Let's say in the example crash scenario, you were lucky. Imagine you had a broken arm, your total medical bill cost $50,000, and you lost $10,000 in wages. Those losses are significantly less than the costs required to examine the tire, not to mention any other fees associated with a lawsuit, and it is unlikely that a jury would award you anything close to what you would need to break even.
So, when you look at the severity of the injury and the costs of the lawsuit together, it is hard to justify spending the required amount for the tire analysis. Basically, you are not injured badly enough to pursue a product liability case.
What Is "Badly Enough?"
When discussing the topic of this article and my example crash scenario, with award-winning attorney Michael Grossman, I had one question, "How do we know if an injury is 'bad enough to pursue a product liability lawsuit?'"
Mr. Grossman broke it down for me like this. Let's imagine the same crash scenario as above, however, your injury is not just a broken arm. Let's say you were paralyzed and are now a quadriplegic. Paralysis of all four limbs is substantially more impactful than a broken arm. Typically, when an injury completely alters your life like that, it's not uncommon for a jury to award compensation in the low-to-mid seven figures. With those kinds of losses, they justify the case expenses.
Obviously, lab tests are not the only expense a person will occur in a product liability case, but if the losses don't even justify sending the defective product to the lab, then as a practical matter, the case is a non-starter.
However, Mr. Grossman did go on to say that in his 30 years of practicing product liability law he has developed a list of injuries that will pretty much always be worth it.
Typically Injuries That Warrant a Product Liability Case:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Burn injuries
- Loss of senses (most eyesight and hearing)
- Major orthopedic injuries
- Spinal inquires
If you have any of those as the result of a defective product, you are most likely hurt severely enough that you can justify a product liability case, and you should certainly speak with an experienced product liability attorney about your crash scenario. At a firm like Grossman Law Offices, consultations are always free.