Class action lawsuits can be efficient and effective tools to recover small damages from large corporations that have manufactured dangerous products. A product may be unreasonably dangerous because of manufacturing defects, design defects, or marketing defects. Some common products that can cause physical harm to consumers are drugs, household products, vehicles, and recreational equipment or toys.
Product liability principles will apply to the lawsuit. As in an individual’s product liability lawsuit, the plaintiff will have to prove that a defect caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. Except in the case of toxic tort litigation, a class action related to dangerous products typically best serves those who have been harmed, when the injuries and potential damages are too minor to make an individual lawsuit worthwhile for the victim or a lawyer.
Often, class action lawsuits against manufacturers that have sold dangerous products arise after recall notices are issued. For example, a car manufacturer may announce that the brakes of a particular model of car stick are faulty and ask that consumers return the cars to be repaired. Similarly, a drug manufacturer may discover a dangerous side effect of which it was unaware when it first started selling a particular drug. Although in some cases a recall notice can be used as evidence in a lawsuit against the manufacturer, it is usually the right move for companies to get ahead of potential lawsuits by warning consumers about problems with a product before anyone gets hurt.
Procedures Related to Dangerous Product Class Action Lawsuits
As with other class actions, the court will appoint a “representative” or “lead” plaintiff in a lawsuit involving dangerous products. The representative plaintiff must be typical of the class members and be able to adequately represent the class. He or she must not have conflicts with other class members.
Once appointed, the representative plaintiff will ask the court to certify the lawsuit as a class action. Rules vary from state to state, but generally the plaintiff obtains certification by showing that a large number of people have been hurt in the same or similar ways, that their cases will involve the same or similar issues of fact or law, and that they are related to the same product and defendant.
Is class certification ever denied? It might be denied if the injuries to the class members are too different or if the factual issues should in fairness be analyzed individually. For example, if a defective drug causes too many different kinds of serious injuries to plaintiffs, and each of these plaintiffs’ injuries will require close scrutiny of different evidence of causation, the court may deny certification.
Once the class is certified, the court will order that all the individuals affected be reasonably notified. This may mean a defendant sends letters to all known consumers, but if this is not feasible, notification may occur through advertisements or on television. Those who are injured have an option to opt in or opt out. In general, class members do not participate in proceedings unless they have testimony that will be helpful to the case. They are also not involved in accepting or refusing a settlement offer. Strategic decisions, including the decision whether to accept a settlement offer, are usually determined by the representative plaintiff in consultation with the class action attorneys. A judge must approve any settlement that is reached.