We continue our Inside Beasley Allen series with a look at what it takes to prepare a case for trial from the perspective of our Personal Injury and Product Liability Section, which works to obtain justice after a client experiences tragedy.
Personal Injury & Product Liability
When people turn to Beasley Allen’s Personal Injury and Product Liability lawyers, they have experienced something tragic, whether a serious injury or death of a loved one, and they are seeking justice. These claims may reveal that the injury or death has been caused by the negligent or wanton conduct of another – including corporate bad actors. And while attorneys and staff rely on an effective system the team has honed over the years to process claims, they know that no two cases are exactly alike and work to give each case the individualized attention it deserves.
“So often, we are their only hope of having a day in court,” said paralegal Laura Reaves.
Laura has been with the firm for 16 years and is one of the many staff working to take a client’s case from intake to final resolution. She explains that each of the countless tasks taking place every day is critical to building the strongest case possible for a client. One of the first and more important aspects of the system is establishing contact with the client early and maintaining that contact throughout the entire process. When the client shares their story, the information will guide the next steps in the process.
Initial research and investigation
The staff works with the firm’s in-house investigators to collect evidence from the accident and accident location, as well as witness statements and other details surrounding the accident. Doubling the efforts is essential when working on cases where the statute of limitations clock has already started running, and evidence, including the product in question, may be critical to a case but not always be easily accessible. For example, an investigator will follow leads to locate a vehicle involved in an accident while other staff runs the vehicle’s identification number (VIN) through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) database to see if it is subject to any recalls. Gaining access to the vehicle while discovering a component, an airbag, for example, is subject to a recall, can help present a more thorough picture of the potential causes for an accident.
The team also researches medical records, insurance filings, the client’s medical invoices, and evidence indicating a potential loss of income or earning potential to establish the impact the accident has had on the client’s life. This process allows attorneys to determine the best course of action for the client’s claim.
If a lawsuit is in order, the attorney and staff immediately draft and file the lawsuit or complaint and other documents necessary for the judicial process, strictly adhering to all the applicable rules established by the court and with an eye on meeting constant deadlines. All parties are notified and discovery is requested, further expanding the firm’s efforts to uncover the facts of a client’s tragedy.
The bigger picture
The research and investigation then shift to the defendants and examines the bigger picture. Investigation of a negligent truck driver in a Personal Injury case may reveal that the employer was negligent in hiring the driver. Similarly, the investigation in a Product Liability case may uncover evidence that a manufacturer willfully placed a harmful product on the market or, worse, tried to cover up a product’s dangers.
In a high-profile example, the firm has litigated numerous cases involving the Takata airbag defect, which can cause airbags to explode even due to a minor accident. Takata’s use of ammonium nitrate in its airbag inflator mechanisms has made the devices extremely unstable and dangerous. The defect emerged in May 2004 and has become the subject of the largest safety recall in U.S. history – currently involving 50 million affected vehicles, and that number is expected to continue to climb. The exploding airbags have killed at least 22 people and injured more than 230 others.
The U.S. hit the company with $1 billion in criminal penalties for its fraudulent handling of the deadly airbag defect. People who experienced an exploding airbag took shrapnel to the face and upper torso, suffering lost vocal cords and eyesight, horrible laceration injuries to their face, neck, and arms, and massive burn injuries.
Although not every case is as far-reaching and high profile, it is suggestive of what happens to consumers on a smaller scale and all too frequently. Taking time to interview and depose company representatives, such as the whistleblower engineers that worked for Takata, can significantly impact a client’s efforts to obtain justice.
Laura explains that many cases resolve before trial. Those that do go to trial are often a very emotional process for the client and for the trial team. The trial is the culmination of countless hours spent researching and investigating the event that changed the client’s life.
“Clients really have no idea how much time and energy goes into their case or how all the pieces fit together until they go to trial. It is powerful to watch the client experience their entire case unfolding for the first time,” said Laura.
In addition to obtaining justice for the client, successful Personal Injury and Product Liability cases also serve as a catalyst for safety recalls and encourage industry changes that improve safety for other consumers.
Inside Beasley Allen series
June 14 – Inside Beasley Allen – Our clients are the heart of what we do
June 21 – Beasley Allen investigators: Uncovering the truth
June 28 – Inside Beasley Allen: Working with referring attorneys to bridge clients’ needs
July 5 – Inside Beasley Allen: Bringing a client’s story to life
July 19 – Inside Beasley Allen: Helping clients navigate the intersection of medical and legal needs