California Product Liability Lawyer

What to Do if Injured By a Defective Product

Video Transcript:

Claude Wyle: 

You know you're in for a real battle, probably all the way through trial once you take on one of these cases, so I don't think you can do it without a lawyer, I really don't.

Rob Rosenthal: 

If you're injured because of a faulty product or a dangerous product, what can you do? What are your rights? How can you get help? We're gonna answer those questions and a lot more right now, because that's what we're going to ask the lawyer on this episode. Hi again, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com, my guest is San Francisco attorney Claude Wyle, and I wanna remind you right off the top, if you wanna ask Claude questions of your own, it's easy, you can go to askthelawyers.com, click the button at the top, the right-hand corner that says Ask the Lawyer. It doesn't cost you anything to ask questions right there, or you can simply call the phone number that you'll see on the screen during our conversation with Claude. Claude, it's always good to see you, thank you for making some time to help us out.

Claude Wyle: 

Very happy to be here. And happy holidays to you and yours, Rob.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Thank you very much. So when we're talking about product liability, that sounds like a lawyer's term. Tell me what that means. What are we talking about?

Claude Wyle: 

What that really means is that there was a dangerous or defective product and that product was a substantial factor in causing somebody's harm. In California, we started strict product liability back with a case called Escola v. Coca-Cola, which had to do with a Coca-Cola bottle blowing up and shooting glass into somebody's eye. The Coca-Cola company said, "But we do everything that everybody does to make sure that we don't have any cracks in our bottles. You can't blame us. We're the state of the art, we're the best company out there." And the Supreme Court of California said that even though Coca-Cola did their best, that wasn't good enough if there was an actual defect in the product and it was dangerous and it caused this injury, well, all you have to do is prove that this product is dangerous and defective, and that it was the cause of the injury. And then that's how strict product liability was born throughout the United States, and it spread to each and every state, and I'm very proud to say that our office, we are the spin-off, we are the grandchild of the office that had that very first product liability case.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Wow, that's fascinating. So how serious can these injuries sometimes be? Are we talking very serious sometimes?

Claude Wyle: 

We're talking about the very most serious injuries you can have, particularly for defective auto cases, crashworthiness cases, things that blow up, like I just said, right in somebody's eye. We tried a case where a gentleman was blinded in one eye because a hand pump failed and shot a dangerous caustic chemical right in his eye. The company that made that pump denied ever having a problem anywhere in the United States, and we did our research with lawyers all across the United States, and it turned out they'd been sued six times before our case. Six times, so they knew about it. It was the exact same problem, and when a jury heard about that, we got a very substantial award.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So why would companies, in your opinion Claude, if they know about a product and they know it's defective and dangerous, why would they not do something about it? They just figure it's cost of doing business?

Claude Wyle: 

Well, it seems that... And I don't wanna be too political, but it seems a lot of times what we end up with is profit over safety. We have money over people. And the very famous case where the Ford Pinto blew up upon being rear-ended because the gas tank was wrong, and it was a very, very inexpensive fix, there was an actual memo by Ford executives saying, "Well, we're gonna get sued, we're gonna fight the lawsuits, we'll beat most of them, but if we fix this, there's so many Pinto's that we're really gonna lose millions of dollars. We're better off just paying the lawsuits." And the jury decided that that was worthy of punitive damages, and that was another California case. So I think they try to do their best most of the time, but sometimes when faced with spending more money versus just fighting lawsuits, they'll just fight the lawsuit and try and hope that the plaintiff will just lose or give up.

Rob Rosenthal: 

What we're talking about, a lot of products these days, more and more, it seems, Claude, especially consumer products, are made overseas. Does that maybe add to the problem, or at the very least make it more difficult to seek damages?

Claude Wyle: 

It adds to the problem procedurally. You can still prove that the product is defective, but for instance, we have a case involving a defective helmet, and the helmet was made in Taiwan. It is next to impossible to find out who made the helmet, sent it to Canada... We know who sent it from Canada to the United States, but it's very, very difficult to actually collect money from many foreign corporations. In some countries, they just change the name of the corporation, disband the original corporation, start up a new one, and it's very difficult from over here in the United States to prove that. So I'm not saying that foreign products are more defective, I'm saying that making foreign manufacturers accountable is more onerous and more difficult for us lawyers. That's why we tend to band together, join organizations, communicate on our list serves, we all try to help each other because these are very big issues and they have national importance.

Rob Rosenthal: 

What if a product has been recalled, Claude? Does that mean someone, if they're injured by a product that has been recalled, could they still have a case?

Claude Wyle: 

I think it's the opposite, I think they have a maybe better case, because that means that there has been a study done and the company realizes they have a problem and they should recall it. Now, practically speaking, a jury won't get as mad if the company has recalled the product. And there is a separate cause of action for negligent failure to recall a product once they realize that they have a problem, a safety problem. So I don't think a recall is a problem. I think it often provides us with good information, good evidence. Just because something is recalled doesn't mean that the individual person who is harmed by that product can't go forward with a lawsuit based on product liability, the opposite is true.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So let's say someone is injured, either they know it's because of a defective product, it's obvious or they're not sure, they suspect, maybe in that situation where you were talking about with the motorcycle helmet. What's your advice? What should they do? Tell us a couple of the quick steps they should do if they're injured because of a faulty product.

Claude Wyle: 

They need right away to talk to a product liability lawyer, a defective product lawyer, whatever you wanna call us. Product liability is complicated, and proving a defective product usually almost always depends upon hiring the right experts who are well-versed, educated on that type of product and can discuss what's wrong with the product. This will bring me to the basics of strict product liability in California. You have strict liability, as I said, which means if something was defective or dangerous and that caused an injury, you have liability. You have two different kinds of strict liability. One is the consumer expectation test. If the product did not perform as safely as the consumer would expect, then you have a cause of action for the consumer expectation test. And you also have the cost-benefit analysis test. Sometimes the defendant will say, "Well, we are cutting edge, we have the best product out there. There are no other alternatives," and then there's an argument over, "Well, if there are no other alternatives, is this product just so dangerous? Is it just gonna hurt so many people that the product shouldn't exist anyway?" That's cost-benefit.

Claude Wyle: 

Then you've got different kinds of strict product liability. The two main kinds that we look at in each and every case are design defect and manufacturing defect. Design defect means there's something wrong with the design of that product, and then the big argument is, "That product was designed poorly and the way it's designed and built means that it's likely to hurt somebody because it's defective." Manufacturing defect on the other hand is, "It wasn't made according to its own design." In other words, if something comes out of the factory and is unchanged by the time it gets to the consumer, and it just breaks, meaning they use faulty steel or faulty aluminum in that bicycle, or the carbon fiber had bubbles in it for that motorcycle part, that is more a manufacturing defect. In other words, this individual product didn't meet the specs of what the manufacturer designed. So, manufacturing defects are easier to prove if you can find them, but of course you need engineers and people to really pick apart that product to learn what was wrong, so, it is complicated. I'm sorry if I made it more complicated, but you need a product liability lawyer to work on a product liability case.

Claude Wyle: 

I just think it's absolutely necessary. I've had clients who tried to sell their product liability case to us saying, "Well, I've talked to my uncle who's an engineer, and he says, it's not evidence." There is a protocol that we follow, and it's the same protocol that most lawyers follow across the country. We've done it many times before to great success, and these cases are challenged at the highest level of defense that you could have, because you can imagine if there's a product sold all over the country, maybe all over the world, that manufacturer wants to defend the reputation of their product, and they will fight you tooth and nail to the ends of the Earth because if you win a verdict and it's determined that their product is defective, it affects the bottom line for that corporation across the whole world. So they are very hardly fought. I'm sorry, they're fought very hard, and you know you're in for a real battle, probably all the way through trial once you take on one of these cases, so I don't think you can do it without a lawyer, I really don't.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Makes a lot of good sense, and lots of helpful information as always, Claude. Thank you for making some time to answer our questions, I appreciate it.

Claude Wyle: 

Rob, it's always great to talk with you. Wishing you and yours a very, very wonderful holiday.

Rob Rosenthal: 

The same to you, buddy. We'll see you next time. That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer, my guest has been San Francisco attorney Claude Wyle. Remember, if you wanna ask Claude questions of your own, it's easy, go to askthelawyers.com, click the button at the top that says Ask the Lawyer, and it doesn't cost you anything to ask your questions. Thanks for watching, I'm Rob Rosenthal with Ask the Lawyers.

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