“I’ve been sued…now what?” Read on to learn the basics of what you might expect throughout the life of a product liability lawsuit.
The Beginning. Product liability lawsuits begin well before a lawsuit is filed. They begin with a product and an injury. We’ll use a case from several years ago as our example. An eleven year-old boy was injured while using a brand new pogo stick. A rubber cap that fit on the top of the stick flew off and hit him in the eye, causing his injury.
The Lawsuit. The lawsuit begins when the boy’s parents hired a lawyer who filed a complaint against the manufacturer. The parents are the plaintiffs. The manufacturer is the defendant. The complaint is the document filed with the court explaining who the parties are, describing the lawsuit, and setting forth the legal theories about the plaintiffs’ claims.
Plaintiffs file a summons and send it to defendant, notifying that it was being sued and that it had a certain time frame (usually 20-30 days, depending on state) to answer the complaint. The complaint and summons are served (delivered) to the manufacturer. The manufacturer has to file an answer (respond) to each allegation in the complaint and raise any defenses it had to the plaintiffs’ allegations.
Discovery. The parties then enter into a period called discovery. Discovery is when information is exchanged between the parties to learn facts that support each side’s case. Each side must disclose, for example, witnesses and relevant documents.
There are several discovery methods, such as:
- Written discovery. Interrogatories (questions responded to by the other party); requests for admission (statements the other party must admit or deny); and requests for production (requests to produce documents or evidence).
- Depositions. This is sworn testimony by a witness. Attorneys ask questions and the deposition is transcribed by a court reporter.
Settlement/Mediation. At some point, the parties will engage in discussions to settle the case without trial. Discussions can be informal through attorneys or a more formal process, like private mediation or court-involved settlement conference. The latter two involve a neutral third party who tries to assist the parties in resolving the case.
Trial. If the case is not settled, it goes to trial. After the jury is picked, the trial begins and each attorney makes her opening statement. An opening statement introduces the jury to the facts of the case and what the attorney will try to prove during the trial. Plaintiffs present their witnesses through direct examination, followed by cross-examination by the defendant. Then the defendant puts on its witnesses.
After witnesses, attorneys give closing arguments. Closings summarize the evidence and attempt to persuade the jury that their side’s version of the case is correct. The judge then instructs the jury on the law and they deliberate. When the decision is reached, the jury returns to the courtroom and announces its verdict.
Conclusion. Sometimes litigation is unavoidable. Having a basic, working knowledge of what to expect, along with a trustworthy and experienced legal team, will help minimize the stress and aggravation that can accompany your lawsuit.