7 Stages of Product Liability Litigation

There are many circumstances that can change the course of complex product liability litigation. Regardless of what can happen throughout litigation, these seven stages serve as a general roadmap for the lifecycle of a product liability matter:  

1. Investigation

The gathering of facts in a situation that will be heard in a court of law.  

Litigation typically begins with an initial investigation stage when plaintiff counsel gathers supporting evidence for the case. During this stage, plaintiff counsel will conduct an initial interview with the affected plaintiff(s) to build a case in order to file a complaint against the defendant(s). The plaintiff must have a basis in fact and law to initiate a lawsuit. 

2. Pleadings 

The parties’ formal statement of the cause of action or defense. 

The paperwork filed by both plaintiff and defense counsel is referred to as pleadings. The pleadings detail each side of the case. Plaintiff counsel will file a complaint, and defense counsel will file an answer.  

Product liability litigation involving many plaintiffs, who allege the same set of facts and alleged wrongdoing against the same defendant(s), will typically be categorized as a mass tort. In a mass tort, the parties may file a motion right away to consolidate all cases in Federal and/or State court. Consolidation occurs when there are common issues of fact and law. Handling the litigation in an aggregate manner typically results in more efficient litigation practices. 

3. Discovery 

The exchange of evidence and information between parties. 

The discovery stage is when counsel conducts their fact-finding allowing each side to prepare for trial or other means of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Discovery is the most labor-intensive and costly stage of litigation.  

At this stage, parties can use interrogatories to find out facts about a case, but they cannot be used for questions that draw a legal conclusion. Interrogatories are a discovery tool the parties can use to have specific questions about a case answered before trial. Interrogatories are lists of questions sent to the other party that must be responded to in writing. There are a variety of forms that can be produced at this stage such as written questions, written requests for documents, written requests to admit certain facts, an initial census, the plaintiff profile form (PPF), plaintiff fact sheet (PFS), collection and analysis of medical records, etc.  

4. Pre-Trial Conference 

A meeting between the parties involved in a legal dispute. 

A court proceeding takes place before a trial to determine the issues within a case. Settlement negotiations can take place in this stage in litigation. ADR may also be discussed at this stage as an option to proceed. ADR is typically quicker than the trial process.  

Arbitration: Similar to a court case, but presented to an arbitrator, not a judge. The arbitrator’s decision can be binding or non-binding.  

Mediation: The function of the meditator is not to decide who wins, but to help the parties come to an agreeable resolution. A mediation agreement signed at the end of a mediation is a binding legal contract between parties and therefore can be enforceable in court. 

5. Trial 

Begins with the parties coming together before a judge, and typically before a jury, to present information.  

If litigation is not resolved in the pre-trial stage, the trial stage begins. It can take years to get to trial.  

Both sides present the evidence and facts gathered in the previous stages. The plaintiff has the burden of proof and goes first. Next, the defense will present their case to refute allegations. At the end of trial, a judgment is rendered in favor of either the plaintiff or the defense. 

If a party does not agree, they can file an appeal. 

6. Settlement 

The resolution of a lawsuit without going forward to a final court judgment.  

Settlements are usually confidential and involve the payment of money from defendant to plaintiff. Settlement can occur at any time in the litigation process – even before pleadings are filed. The court may ask parties to discuss settlement prior to trial depending on allegations, evidence, etc. Potential reasons for settlement include unwillingness to expend cost to pursue or defend, weakened position due to results of discovery, or to simply make the matter go away. 

7. Appeal 

When a case is brought before a higher court for review of the decision of a lower court.  

Counsel can file an appeal to dispute a case outcome in trial. There are strict deadlines associated with filing an appeal. The appellate process can also be lengthy and may postpone collection of the judgment.   

7 Stages of Litigation Inforgraphic

 

How can LMI help you with product liability litigation? 

No matter the size of the litigation, LMI can help. We partner with plaintiff counsel, defense counsel, judges, mediators, and more to help guide you to successful matter resolution. Every project is approached with a customized lens to fit the needs of each client and/or matter. From initial census to discovery all the way through settlement, we have your back. Contact us today.