Product liability matters arise when a product's manufacturing or design defect causes damage or injury to an individual. When this happens, the affected individuals can file a product liability claim to seek legal compensation for the damages or injuries caused by these defective products. In 2019, over 57,000 product liability cases were filed in United States District Courts. The individuals that file these claims are typically represented by product liability attorneys who specialize in handling matters that involve defective products.
Accordingly, some of the key issues addressed by a product liability attorney near you include:
- Securing compensation for injuries caused by a product defect
- Advising clients on an appropriate course of action when they suffer from a product defect
- Negotiating out-of-court settlements with the company that is liable for the product defect
Product liability is a specific and technical area of tort law. To ensure that a product liability attorney near you can satisfactorily handle your case, you should inquire about the following:
Where Are You Licensed to Practice Product Liability in the State You Are?
Obtaining a license to practice is a requirement a product liability attorney must satisfy before they can practice in any state. Generally, the state's bar association issues this license after an attorney obtains a Juris Doctor degree by graduating from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved law school and passing the state's bar examinations. Some states may have variations or additional requirements for this process. For example, states like Massachusetts and Alabama also allow students from state-accredited law schools to take the state's bar examinations.
Attorneys that wish to practice in trial courts located in more than one state are generally required to obtain a state-issued license from each of these states before they can do so. However, some states like Oregon and Washington allow out-of-state attorneys to appear before their state courts without going through the process of writing their respective state bar examinations. This allowance is usually either based on reciprocity agreements or admission by motion. For example, Oregon has reciprocity agreements with states like Montana and New Jersey that allow attorneys licensed in any of these states to practice in Oregon without writing a bar examination, and vice versa. Similarly, in addition to reciprocity agreements, Washington also allows out-of-state attorneys to practice based on admission by motion. An admission by motion is a procedure of admitting an attorney to practice in a state without the need for the attorney to write the state's bar examinations. For the procedure to begin, an attorney must apply to the supreme court or bar association of the state that is granting the admission. Note that allowance based on admission by motion is entirely at the discretion of the court and attorneys that wish to be admitted on motion generally have to fulfill certain requirements.
On the other hand, the dynamics of federal courts are somewhat different. Generally, to appear before a federal court, an attorney near you must be admitted to practice and sworn in by that particular court. The requirements for this admission vary by court. For example, the Southern District Court of Texas allows appearance from attorneys that have been licensed by other states while the District of Nevada District Court only allows appearance from attorneys that were licensed in Nevada.
Product liability cases are mostly handled in federal courts, so you should ensure your product liability attorney is admitted to practice before federal courts. You can verify your attorney's licensing status by contacting your state's bar association as well as the federal court where the case is to be heard to be sure that your attorney has been sworn in by it.
What Kind of Product Liability Work Do You Handle?
Product liability is a specialized area of tort law and many product liability attorneys typically handle all types of cases that involve defective products. However, some product liability attorneys near you may choose a subcategory of product liability to focus on, and these subcategories include:
- Motor vehicle product liability: This covers claims of personal injury caused by a defective component of a motor vehicle. The claim may be brought against the motor vehicle manufacturer, the manufacturer of the defective component, the motor vehicle distributor, or all the parties.
- Property damage: This covers situations whereby the defective product did not cause personal injury but caused damage to the claimant's property.
- Airline product liability: This covers situations where a mechanical problem in an aircraft is the cause of an injury or an aircraft accident.
You should always make sure that the product liability attorney you intend to hire specializes in a subcategory of product liability that is relevant to your case.
How Long Have You Been in practice?
An attorney's experience and capabilities are largely determined by the attorney's years of practice. Attorneys near you that have practiced longer generally provide better assessment and advice concerning a case. They also tend to have a better rapport with court officials as well as more courtroom experience than newer attorneys.
Find out when your attorney was sworn in and took the oath of practice, and how much of this time has been spent practicing product liability law. Besides the length of practice, it is also important to ensure that your attorney's practice focuses on product liability matters that are similar to yours. To help you do this, the ABA advises that you ask your attorney for a caseload breakdown and review it to find out the volume of similar product liability cases that your attorney handles.
Do You Charge Fixed or Hourly Fees?
Due to the complexities of product liability cases, many product liability attorneys near you would typically charge clients contingency fees. A contingency fee involves paying an attorney a percentage of the settlement awarded in a case. This percentage varies and is largely dependent on what stage the case was concluded. Many attorneys charge an average of 30% - 33% of the settlement as contingency fees, however, this can go as high as 50%.
Alternatively, product liability attorneys may also charge hourly rates. These hourly rates cover every minute the attorney spends working on the case. This includes time spent drafting arguments, appearing in court, and updating the client on the progress of the case. Hourly rates can range from $250 to $1,000, and attorneys that utilize this payment method usually request clients to pay a retainer. A retainer is a down payment from which the attorney deducts these hourly charges during the case. If this retainer gets depleted before your matter is concluded, then you may be required to pay another retainer fee. Conversely, you can also request the remaining funds if your case is concluded before the retainer is depleted, except there is an agreement that precludes you from doing so.
Finally, some product liability attorneys charge flat fees to perform specific services like reviewing documents and providing advice for out-of-court negotiations. Flat rates vary by the attorney, location, and the service that is being offered, and they can range from anywhere between $200 and $1,000.
Note that sometimes attorney fees do not cover all the financial aspects of your case, and some attorneys may charge separately for other court process costs like copying fees and filing fees. As such, you should always find out from your attorney how you will be charged and the costs that your attorney fees will cover.
Do You Charge for an Initial Consultation?
An initial consultation involves a quick15-minute to 30-minute review of your case by an attorney. Some product liability attorneys near you would offer free initial consultations, while others charge a one-off fee. Some attorneys may also include the cost of an initial consultation in their total fees if you retain their services, and so you should get confirmation from your attorney on whether or not you will be charged for an initial consultation. In some states like Delaware and Oregon, state-referred attorneys offer initial consultations for free or at a discounted fee to low-income clients.
Note that while attorneys may give legal advice during an initial consultation, these consultations do not usually involve a full legal analysis. Instead, they are mostly used by clients and attorneys to decide whether to fully commit to an attorney-client relationship based on the case assessment.
How Do You Keep Clients Informed about Their Case?
Per the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys are obligated to reasonably keep clients informed on their case. In performing this obligation, different attorneys adopt different methods which may include email updates or physical appointments. Do not take for granted that you have hired an attorney near you, ensure to discuss with your attorney on preferred methods of communication so that you are kept in the loop.
Besides the method for keeping a client informed, attorneys also adopt different frequencies of giving updates, including weekly or monthly updates. The method of communication may influence the frequency of communication. For example, receiving updates via in-person meetings may limit the number of these meetings to only instances when there is a significant update or change in your case, while email updates can be received more frequently. As such, discuss the various methods of communication that can be utilized by your attorney, how often you can be updated through these methods, and the type of updates that will be provided through each of these methods.
Who Will Actually Do the Work?
Although product liability attorneys mostly handle all the legal technicalities related to a case, they typically do not handle every aspect of the case. Some aspects of your case, such as research or service of processes, may be handled by paralegal staff. In some cases, and depending on the attorney or law firm, paralegal staff may also be involved in the legal technicalities related to your case. While the ABA obligates attorneys to supervise their paralegal staff, you need to know the extent of their involvement in your case and whether your attorney is properly supervising these individuals.
In addition to paralegal staff, your attorney may also engage the services of an expert to prove the link between the product defect and the damage or injury. Note that you may either be billed separately for the services of these extralegal individuals or have their fees deducted from your retainer. It is always a good idea to get clarification on this from your product liability attorney.
Can You Provide References from Former Clients?
Former client references help give an insight into your attorney's conduct and legal expertise. Your product liability attorney should be able to provide references from former clients or lead you to where you can find them. Some attorneys do this by directing you to a dedicated section for client references on their official website. Also you can get reviews of clients near you on your attorney online by searching for the attorney's name on Google or through specific websites like Better Business Bureau. You can also contact your state's bar association to find out whether your attorney is in good standing or whether there are any issues you need to be aware of.
What Is Your Success Rate?
Besides their length of practice, the success rate of product liability attorneys is also an indication of their expertise. As a result, it is important to know what your attorney's success rate is. You can do this by inquiring from your product liability attorney. In product liability claims, getting compensation for an injured customer is typically considered a successful outcome. This compensation can be general monetary awards or specific monetary awards for things like medical costs and legal costs. However, while securing compensation is typically considered a success, securing adequate compensation is more important. What is considered adequate compensation will vary by case. You can get a general idea of whether your product liability attorney secures adequate compensation by looking at court records of similar cases handled by your attorney. The extent of damage or injury involved in each case, the compensation requested, and the compensation secured are factors that determine whether compensation is adequate.
Also, you can visit courts where your product liability attorney has entered an appearance and inquire with court officials on their assessment of your attorney's general performance and expertise. Alternatively, you may check references from former clients and see how many of them reported satisfaction with how your attorney handled their case. You can further contact a few of the previous clients and ask more specific questions such as your attorney's ability to analyze a case and present arguments. All of these help in assessing your product liability attorney's success rate and expertise.
When Should I Hire a Product Liability Attorney?
While no law prohibits you from self-representation in your product liability claim, it is ideal that you obtain legal representation due to the complexities involved in these types of matters. Even though hiring a product liability attorney does not guarantee that you will achieve your desired outcome, it exponentially increases its chances of happening. As such, the best time to hire and retain a product liability attorney is when you notice any damage or injury caused by a defective product to you or a loved one.
In some cases, if you notice a product is defective you can also retain the services of a product liability attorney before any potential injury from the product defect occurs. Your attorney can evaluate your case at such early stages and determine if you have a cause of action and advise you accordingly. Furthermore, you should hire the services of a product liability attorney if you need assistance in analyzing a product liability situation. This is usually the case when you are unsure whether you have a valid product liability claim. A product liability attorney will help analyze the situation and give legal advice before the situation changes or gets complicated.
Conversely, you should also hire a product liability attorney near you if you are being held liable for damages caused by an item or product that you manufactured, sold, or rented out. This attorney can help you avoid high monetary losses by negotiating an appropriate out-of-court settlement with the claimant or defending you in court against these claims.
What Are the Typical Qualifications Held by a Product Liability Attorney?
A product liability attorney is required to have a Juris Doctor law degree. Attorneys obtain this degree after graduating from either an American Bar Association or state-approved law school. Once this degree has been obtained, attorneys are then required to pass a state-administered bar examination after which they are sworn in by the state's bar association and licensed to practice law. Product liability attorneys can also obtain specialization certifications from ABA-accredited organizations like the National Board of Trial Advocacy.