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Frequently Asked Questions About Product Liability Law, Part IV, by Clifford Law Offices' Partner Richard Burke

Question: Can a person be successful in a product liability case if he or she did not use a product properly or in accord with the directions on the product? Rich: They certainly may be, yes.  And obviously the extent to which a person did not properly use a product may become an issue and may give rise to contributory negligence or assumption of the risk.  But what we often see is that a product might not have adequate instructions as to how to safely use the product or adequate warnings about inherent dangers and hazards that are part of using that product.  So, in that type of situation, one of the issues that comes into play is really the appropriateness or adequacy of the warnings, and that defective or insufficient warning can, under Illinois law, definitely give rise to a product being deemed unreasonably dangerous. Question: Can a person file a product liability case if the product came with warnings about hazards or dangers involved with the use of this product? Rich: Yes, they can.  And I probably just touched on that a little bit with respect to the last question because what we would be looking at there is the adequacy of the warnings that accompanied that product.  Did the manufacturer fail to tell the consumer about all of the hazards and dangers that they knew about?  Or did they explain those warnings in a manner and in a location on the product, or in instructions, where any average consumer realistically is going to look and be able to understand what they are talking about? Question: How would I personally be involved in a product liability case?  Would I have to testify in court? Rich: Yes.  Most likely any person who brings a product liability case does testify.  In Illinois, we have a deposition process, so usually they give a deposition in the case first and then ultimately, unless a case has settled, it will proceed to trial.  The person who has been injured, will testify at trial about their purchase of the product, about their expectations as to its use and about how they believe the product failed and caused injury to them. Question: What role do expert witnesses play in proving a product liability case? Rich: Experts are very important in product liability cases, and the more complicated the product and the more serious the injury, usually the greater number of experts that are needed.  Basically, we are usually talking about products that have some mechanical or scientific aspect to them, so we frequently utilize experts that have experience in the design of the type of product that is at issue.  They give testimony as to why the product failed, as to why it was dangerous in its design, and the type of alternative designs that existed that could have been utilized to make the product safer. Question: A lot of people are worried about their finances.  What does it cost to bring a product liability case? Rich: That, too, varies on the type of product involved, the scope of litigation and the number of experts that are needed in any particular case.  Clifford Law Offices has regularly represented clients in product liability cases where we normally advance the funds needed to hire the experts for these types of cases.  Sometimes its $5,000 or $10,000, but we literally have spent over a half a million dollars in certain types of serious motor vehicle product liability cases in putting together all of the expert testimony, evidence and inspections that we know are necessary to successfully prosecute the case in court. Question: Any final thoughts when it comes to product liability? Rich: I think that most product liability cases play an important role in our society because consumers are entitled to have an expectation that a product they pay money for is going to perform in a manner that they expect.  When that doesn't happen, consumers need a legal means to seek compensation for their injuries.  The manufacturers are the only ones who had the ability to properly design and manufacturer the product.  When there is a defect in the product, a product liability lawsuit is the only thing that causes manufacturers to have the incentive to design and manufacture their products in a manner that is safe, and in a manner that will prevent injury to consumers when that product is used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.  

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