Index Home About Blog
From: (Gerald L. Hurst) 
Date: Apr 04 1995

In article <3lp4fp$>, (CKarney) 

>Senate hearings on the product liability reform bill (S.565) will be held
>on April 3 and 4.  This bill would seriously limit the rights of
>individuals with legitimate product liability claims...... 

As an expert (chemist) frequently handling fire and explosion product 
liability cases for both sides, I have mixed feelings about this 
legislation.  On the one hand, I have helped defend manufacturers who won 
their cases because the fear of punitive damages had made them cautious 
enough to build their appliances well enough to persuade the jury the fire 
started elswhere.  Some (certainly not all) of these mfgrs will react to
the new legislation in such a way as to save a few bucks on the cost of 
plastics, power supplies, etc and accident rates will go up.

On the other paw, I've seen a gawdawful lot of technically frivolous 
lawsuits won by incompetent but expensive "experts" who would never have 
been hired by the penniless plaintiff's contingency lawyer if it weren't 
for those extra damages or the smaller but quicker payout in nuisance
settlement bucks.

Even your local gas company bases its inspections and maintenance on the 
relative economics of lawsuits vs repair costs. Watch what happens within
a few years if the legislation goes through.

I guess I finally come down against the bill, but then I guess my bread is 
potentially better buttered on that side :)


Subject: Re: Lawsuit against fertilizer mfr (Okl city bombing)
From: (Gerald L. Hurst) 
Date: May 18 1995

In article <3pg6m0$>, 
(Lloyd R. Parker) says:
>: Consequently, if the 
>: fertilizer can easily be changed to lose it's bombing qualities while 
>: retaining all of it's fertilizing qualities AND the company reasonably 
>: foresaw the killings then there could be an argument for liability.  
>Actually, a judge in California has allowed a gunshot victim to sue the 
>gun maker, the argument being that the gun maker should have reasonably 
>foreseen that the product was dangerous.

Judges are likely to let people sue over most anything and let the trial 
sort out the mess; that is why we have the push in congress to limit 
frivolous lawsuits.

I had a case once (consulting) in which a young man found some of those 
little firework torpedos with the non-PC in the parking lot of a 
bowling alley and stuffed them in his pocket.  According to his complaint, 
he tossed the ball down the alley and at that moment his left pocket 
erupted causing him to dance around furiously and yank down his pants and 
receive burns to a portion of his anatomy where no man should suffer.

So ... whom did he sue?  The (Asian) company which had manufactured the 
butane cigaret lighter he happened to have in his pocket.  The theory was 
that the bowling motion caused the flint wheel to turn, creating a spark 
which ignited a fuse on one of the fireworks.  His attorney brought in a 
shave-tail engineer who testified in his deposition that the standard 
pocket lighter is unreasonably dangerous because there is no safety clutch 
or brake on the flint wheel and that the manufacturer should have foreseen 
that this omission constituted an unnecessary hazard.

This case never went to trial, but settled for a ridiculously high amount 
to avoid the otherwise higher cost of defending the suit in court as is 
frequently the case with frivolous suits.

I am currently aware of a pending case in which a woman shot herself in 
the leg with her major name brand (semi-)automatic pistol.  Of course, the 
allegation is that the gun malfunctioned, despite the fact that it had 
been modified and repaired in jury-rig fashion.  This is another case 
looking for a nuisance settlement.

Or how about a case in which an explosion occured in a very small room 
containing 120 lbs of smokeless powder and thousands of primers.  The 
explosion pushed a couple of walls a few inches only, but sent a fire ball 
through the house resulting in two burned and orphaned children.  The 
family sued guess who?  he manufacturer of the computer printer which was 
also in the room. Theory?  The printer shorted, got very hot as a result 
and released an explosive aerosol as the plastic decomposed. The aerosol 
concentration increased until the lower explosive limit was reached and 
then boom!

Absurd you say? Idiotic? Nope, both the plaintiff and defendant attorneys 
checked with local gunshops and national powder manufacturers and became 
convinced that "Gunpowder does not explode unless it is confined." It took 
the defendant's expert (me) a couple of years to convince the truly 
exceptionally intelligent team of defense lawyers and other experts that 
the propellant was the culprit, and this was first accomplished the night 
before the trial when I visited another expert in his apartment and put on 
a demonstration of the explosion of "unconfined powder," We videotaped the 
demo the second time around in such a way as to demonstrate both the 
pressure and fireball effects. The Jury (and our own lawyers), because of 
the press of time, saw the video tape in detail for the first time in the 
courtroom.  We won the case, but it cost at least half a million to 
prepare and try it.

Oops, shut him down - he's telling old war stories again --


Index Home About Blog