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Navigating a Product Liability Lawsuit From Filing to Settlement

Updated May 10, 2024 | By Emily Chimenti

Product liability claims can be complex and daunting for victims of defective products. To succeed in your case, you will need a basic understanding of legal principles and court processes. Here, we explain how a product liability lawsuit progresses from your first meeting with an attorney to your successful settlement.

Steps of a Product Liability Claim

After someone has been harmed by consumer goods, their first step is consulting with an attorney who specializes in these types of cases. The attorney will evaluate the case’s merits and advise on whether to proceed with legal action.

From here, the attorney will guide you through the legal process, which usually includes:

  • Investigation and evidence gathering. Your attorney will thoroughly investigate the incident, gathering evidence—such as medical records, product documentation, witness statements, and any other relevant information—to support the case.
  • Complaint filing. Your attorney will file a lawsuit against the product’s manufacturer, distributor, or seller (the defendant) on behalf of the injured party (the plaintiff) in the appropriate court. This includes how much you will be seeking in your injury case for medical costs, lost wages, and other expenses.
  • Discovery. Both parties engage in the discovery process—when they exchange information and evidence relevant to the case. This may include written questions (interrogatories), document requests, and witness depositions.
  • Pretrial motions. Either party may file pretrial motions to resolve legal issues or pre-trial disputes. These motions could include motions to dismiss, for summary judgment, or to exclude certain evidence.
  • Settlement negotiations. Throughout the process, the parties may enter settlement negotiations to resolve the case without going to trial. Settlements can be reached at any stage of the proceedings, even during litigation.
  • Trial. Cases that don’t settle proceed to trial. During the trial, both sides present evidence, call witnesses, and make arguments to the judge or jury. After all the evidence has been presented, the judge or jury deliberates and reaches a verdict. This could potentially include significant punitive damages, particularly in severe injury or wrongful death cases.

illustration depicting the 6 steps to a product liability claim

How Long Does it Take to Receive a Product Liability Settlement?

The timeline for receiving a product liability settlement varies widely depending on factors such as the complexity of the case, negotiations between parties, and court proceedings. Some settlements may be reached relatively quickly through negotiation, while others can take months or even years to resolve.

The amount of insurance a company has can also influence a settlement’s timeline. Companies often have significant product liability insurance to pay for any judgments or settlements involving dangerous products. However, some businesses may be forced to pay a plaintiff’s legal fees and injury costs out of their profits. Cases may be settled quickly if the defendant is clearly at fault or concerned about its reputation.

Why Are Product Liability Cases Important?

Product liability claims provide a means of recourse for people who’ve been harmed by defective or dangerous products, but they also play a crucial role in ensuring consumer safety. By holding manufacturers accountable, they promote corporate responsibility and serve as a deterrent against negligent or reckless behavior.

When companies know they can be held legally responsible for harm caused by their products, they have a strong incentive to avoid design defects, manufacturing defects, and misleading marketing. This pressure to avoid liability encourages manufacturers, distributors, and sellers to invest in research and quality control measures, provide warnings for their products on their safe usage, and ultimately leads to safer consumer products.

Corporate responsibility also includes marketing, as promoting dangerous products can expose more consumers to harm. In the case against EOS, the parent company “Evolution of Smooth” used celebrity product placement in music videos released by Miley Cyrus (2013) and Jennifer Lopez (2014). This helped boost brand awareness and sales among the product’s main target: millennial women.

Celebrity endorsements and EOS’s promotion of its lip balms as natural and hypoallergenic led women to believe that the products were safe. However, some users reported allergic reactions, including swelling and bleeding.

Are Injuries Always Severe in Product Liability Cases?

While some product liability claims involve serious injuries or even fatalities, others may result in minor harm or inconvenience. The severity depends on factors such as the nature of the defect, how the product was used, and the user’s vulnerability.

EOS customer Rachael Cronin, for example, claimed that the lip balm caused a severe rash that forced her to seek medical attention and took about ten days to abate. The injury was enough to warrant filing a class action suit on behalf of all others who might be affected. It’s not clear what was responsible for the rash, but after reviewing photos, dermatologists have suggested that the vitamin E, beeswax, or the natural fragrances in the product might be to blame.

Will Companies Change Their Ways After a Product Liability Settlement?

Companies react differently to product liability cases. Some discontinue production of the items that caused harm, and others issue recalls when the safety or quality of their products is in question. One of the least expensive responses is to issue warnings on the packaging of a product that has caused injury in the past, allowing consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions.

A key point in the EOS suit seems to have been the claim that, despite reports by some users, the company failed to provide warnings of possible allergic reactions or side effects in their advertising or on the product packaging. While similar products are usually sold in sticks, tubes, or small tins, EOS is marketed in small, round plastic pods in an array of bright and bold colors, making it instantly recognizable.

The settlement’s terms were not released, but a statement by the plaintiff’s lawyer implies that part of the terms include changes to the product packaging. For its part, EOS holds that its products have been rigorously tested and are completely safe.

Contact a Product Liability Lawyer Today

When a product is deemed unsafe—even when it only causes issues for some users, as in the EOS case—action should be taken to correct the problem immediately.

If you or a loved one have been injured due to a defective product, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis products liability attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a no-obligation, free consultation.

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