D+AS MAGAZINE

LEGAL — Product Liability Lawsuits: Nobody Wins

© 2000 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Summer 2000
Author: Naomi R. Angel
Page 40

Legal Tips
Product Liability Lawsuits: Nobody Wins


Product liability lawsuits are a losing proposition for garage door dealers. Even if you win a lawsuit, here’s what you lose:
  • Vast amounts of time
  • Lots of money from massive legal bills
  • Potential damage to your reputation

Yes, legal trials on TV seem glamorous and appealing. But most business owners don’t realize all the lost time and expense that lawsuits require. Besides the obvious strain of legal fees, here’s the typical behind-the-scenes reality of suits:

  • Providing written answers to dozens of specific questions.
  • Finding and submitting hundreds of documents.
  • Losing the productive time of employees who must submit to questioning under oath.

If you saw the DASMA product liability mock trial at Expo 2000 in Las Vegas, you learned at least one important rule: You must try to prevent a lawsuit in the first place.

Ten practical ways to prevent a lawsuit:

  1. Designate an employee as product liability prevention manager who will be responsible for pre-accident and post-accident programs.

  2. Keep better records! Records are a key element of proof in any product liability litigation. Don’t forget to back-up and maintain your computer files.

  3. At employee meetings, periodically remind everyone of the importance of product safety and reliability.

  4. Examine your company’s advertising and marketing materials to be sure you’re not promising more than you can legitimately offer, especially in terms of safety.

  5. Ask your insurance agent if your product liability coverage is appropriate. Does it exclude some liability that you might face? Does it cover punitive damages?

  6. Ask your attorney to review your contracts with vendors. Do the contracts minimize your company’s product liability exposure?

  7. Develop a professional procedure for investigating product incidents as soon as you hear of the claim or accident.

  8. Take a look at and update your company’s document retention program. Claims may be made years after a product was sold and installed. Employees may be long gone. Your records may be your only documentation of the facts.

  9. Where appropriate, seek a quick resolution. Many claims can be resolved fairly, reasonably, and quickly, avoiding costly litigation.

  10. Finally, if you are contacted by an attorney on behalf of a claimant, inform your attorney immediately. Lawyers should negotiate with other lawyers.

No one wins in product liability litigation because the cost in time and expense is substantial and irretrievable. Be smart. Be proactive. It just might save your business.

Naomi R. Angel, DASMA legal counsel, is experienced in commercial litigation and is a trained mediator advising businesses on dispute resolution issues. She is with the Chicago law firm of McBride Baker & Coles and can be contacted at 312-715-5788 or angel@mbc.com.