In an earlier article, we talked about what you should do if you discover that you have purchased a faulty product. The truth of the matter is that faulty products are a fact of life for many companies. No matter how closely they monitor the manufacturing process, it’s still possible for mistakes to get through either from human error, or from machine wear and tear, or from changes in the manufacturing process.
Many product faults are minor and can be easily corrected by contacting the company and returning the faulty product for a refund. Sometimes product faults are dangerous, and even life-threatening, such as brakes that fail to function properly, or food that’s been contaminated by deadly pathogens or chemicals. In those cases the fix isn’t so simple, and contacting the company could open you up to a world of problems.
When a faulty product results in a serious injury, or even death, you need to do more than just contact the company for a refund. In fact, you might not want to contact the company at all.
Why Not Contact the Company
Back in 1992, Stella Liebeck sustained 3rd degree burns from a scalding cup of McDonald’s coffee, burns that required skin grafts and eight days in the hospital. Her daughter contacted McDonalds to report the incident, and to see if McDonalds would cover some or all of the $20,000 in medical costs from the incident. McDonalds offered $800.
The Liebecks didn’t take the settlement and took McDonalds to court instead, revealing that the company served its coffee at nearly 200 degrees and had received multiple complaints in the past.
The result of the McDonalds hot coffee case was that the courts awarded Stella Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages.
The Liebecks are a special case, in that they realized that they refused the initial settlement offered by the company. It’s not unusual for someone to be injured by a product, contact the company, and end up taking whatever compensation is offered, even if it is far less than the cost of the injury. Often they may feel that if they don’t accept the offer, then they won’t get anything at all.
The reality is that these companies will often offer as little as they can get away with, and if the complainant takes they offer, they might also make them sign a paper stating that they can’t sue later.
If you are injured by a faulty product, you should consider consulting with a legal professional before you contact the company. If you have already contacted them, and they have offered you money, then you should talk to a lawyer before you accept their offer.
What a Lawyer Can Do
The first thing a lawyer can do is be the voice a reason during a difficult time.
As we said before, these companies will offer as little money as they can in the hopes of making the problem go away. What’s worse is that they will offer small settlements, even if they are aware that the product if faulty and have received multiple complaints in the past. However, they are counting on people being desperate or under duress, and benign willing to take whatever is offered and sign away their right to sue.
A lawyer can tell you if you should accept the settlement, or if you should push for more. He can also tell you if you have a case worth taking to court.
If you do decide to settle, a lawyer will make sure that everything is handled properly. Attorney David Van Sant says: “One of the biggest risks associated with handling your own case is making sure the settlement documents are prepared properly to protect you.”
A lawyer doesn’t have any personal attachment to the issue, he’s not the injured party, he’s not looking at thousands of dollars in medical bills, or grieving the death of a loved one, which means he can see the situation clearly and give you the right advice on how to proceed.
He can also take over dealing with the company in question, while you focus on healing from your injury, or recovering from the injury or death of someone you love.
While it is absolutely possible for you to do all of these things on your own, having a lawyer means that you don’t have to.