Amended Federal Rules of Discovery in Product Liability Cases
Manufacturers, retailers, and designers have the responsibility to make sure their products are safe and ready to use for consumers. Product liability cases may include defective or poorly designed machinery, tools, recreational products, pharmaceuticals and likewise.
The two big giants that got trapped due to their defective products in hand of customers were the Takata Corp. air bags, involving a faulty inflator which subsequently led to big accidents creating road safety concerns; and the other, the General Motors (GM) ignition switches crises. Pursuant to the Takata airbags, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), recalled many vehicles with faulty air bags. Associated Press reported the recalling of automobile manufacturers such as Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Toyota for similar air bag inflator problems by the Takata Corp. On the other hand the GM ignition switches crises- increased the risk of injury towards customer on their personal ends and GM recalled about 2.5 million vehicles in 2014 after accidents that caused more than 40 deaths. This has resulted into a lengthy pre-trial litigation. The General Motor Case came up with the facts discovered via e-mail conversations revealing that GM pressed to the same supplier for more switches which already were in a devastated state thereby increasing the risk of injury. Also, GM had been aware of the defects quite beforehand until the claims for personal injury came in against GM, yet it avoided recalling defected vehicles earlier.
Both these instances dealing with safety hazards of their products create the need for a broad civil discovery to a meaningful access to justice. This purpose has, however, been discouraged by certain rule changes for a lot of plaintiffs, especially the ones dealing in the product liability cases, to get their day in court. Therein has emerged a new set of rules further restricting the scope of pretrial discovery requests that is to take effect this year.
In September 2014, the Judicial Conference of the United States approved a set of amendments to Rule 1 and Rules 26 through 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, dealing with pretrial case management and discovery.
Such amended rules may provide an opportunity to defendant companies like GM & Takata, which concealed crucial information about the defect which they already knew until it led to injuries and even deaths. It is important to note that under the cover of these rules, GM may choose not to disclose the fact that it already was aware of the defects and risking people’s life by urgent order for more switches, thus, consequently rejecting such discovery requests as unimportant and not proportional to the said case/litigation. These amendments are now before the Supreme Court, which is expected to officially propose them to Congress by May 1, 2015. Although such amendments hold good in easing court procedure and avoiding costly trials, yet might provide an opportunity to discover defects in the products which probably be dangerous as in the General Motors case.