It seems to be fashionable these days for a popular press and their friends to wrongly criticize all lawyers who may from time to time represent plaintiffs who present a claim arising from injuries resulting from a defective product. To lawyers, these are known as “products liability cases.”
There may indeed be some abuse in the system, but since nearly all product liability cases are brought on a contingent fee basis, then the lawyer as well as the client will have suffered through an extensive process, with high expenses and no compensation if there is no merit to the claim. A result devoutly to be avoided! It is the purpose of this brief note to point out the fact that products liability lawyers and their clients in fact “do good” by causing the manufacturers to take greater care in their product design and production. This, in turn, leads to reduced numbers of deaths and injuries resulting from such defective products.
Perhaps we have all heard of the Alabama court action brought quite a number of years ago in favor of a family and an individual who had been burned to death in a Ford Pinto. The accident was not violent but the Pinto immediately went up in flames because the gas tank (in order to save about $8 per automobile, if memory serves) was installed in an unprotected position. Ford Motor was shown to have been aware of the problem and the possible danger, but assessed that it was cheaper to kill a number of customers that were “worth at most” one or two million dollars than it was to manufacture several million Pintos at a higher price.
Similarly, we have been involved in several cases over the years in which airline disasters might have been avoided had the defects discovered by plaintiffs’ lawyers been corrected in the aircraft before the accident.
As a result of the Air France Boeing 707 accident at Orly field in Paris early in June, 1962, it was discovered that the most probable cause of accident was a defective stabilizer control switch or some part of the electrical controls of the stabilizer drive which caused the stabilizer to “run away.” At Orly, the stabilizer ran away during the takeoff run to a full aircraft nose.down position preventing the aircraft from ever leaving the runway. Following a very thorough post.accident investigation and review of previous incident reports (in which it was not unknown for the same problem to intermittently occur, usually in flight when it was not so disastrous) the probable cause was found. Boeing modified their design such that if the stabilizer attempted to run in a direction contrary to the elevator controls input by the pilots then the stabilizer would be electrically disconnected, thus preventing repetition of the Orly incident. All Boeing aircraft were thus made safer.
In 1978, a Douglas DC.9 aircraft of Southern Airways with its Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines (these are the most popular aircraft engines in the world) suffered double engine failure upon entering extremely heavy rain. Investigations by lawyers for the plaintiffs (again, Floyd Siefferman was one) demonstrated that this was not an unknown phenomena (but it certainly had not been made public and probably the airlines were not aware of the problem). The problem had first been manifested in the military version of the same engine and even in another DC.9 not very long before the Southern Airways crash. The investigators in the earlier DC.9 incident (one engine had been coaxed back to life) attributed (falsely I believe) the double engine failure to a “mechanic’s rag” in one engine! The thorough Southern DC.9 investigation by plaintiffs’ lawyers demonstrated that the “ingestion” of much water caused high internal steam pressure resulting in the clashing between the rotors of mid.stages of the compressor section of the engine with their immediately preceding stators which caused the engine to self.destruct. A very slight change in bearing thickness between the stators and the following rotors was all that was necessary to prevent this phenomenon from again occurring.
It is through the careful investigation by plaintiffs’ lawyers and their clients that manufacturers have been compelled to more thoroughly test products to correct these defective conditions uncovered in the legal process and prevent them from occurring at all in new products. Thus, product liability lawyers and their clients may feel that they have in fact “done good” on behalf of their fellow man and saved untold lives and injuries.