Last week I attended the Association of Equipment Manufacturer's Product Liability seminar in Bloomingdale, Ill. The seminar focused on how technical personnel and corporate representatives of equipment manufacturing companies and outside counsel can work together during litigation proceedings for effective litigation tactics and strategies. The topics ranged from coordinating litigation on a national scale to the important role corporate representatives can take in alternative dispute resolution. Some of the key themes which emerged are:
- The importance of a well-organized litigation program at the corporate level. One speaker highlighted the challenges emerging from cooperation and organization of the plaintiffs' bar. For example, many plaintiff's attorneys' associations maintain forums on specific products where the attorneys can share common claims involving a product, document libraries where attorneys can share successful pleadings, and deposition repositories that attorneys can use to research a corporate representative in a matter. In order to combat this cooperation by the plaintiffs' bar, manufacturers need to coordinate their litigation on a company level to ensure that the manufacturer's discovery responses and other pleadings do not contradict those filed in cases in other jurisdictions. The plaintiff's attorneys are sharing these documents and will use them to surprise a corporate representative at deposition or trial. Manufacturers typically accomplish such coordination by employing internal litigation managers or product specialists, or by employing national counsel.
- Recent changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may benefit manufacturers, specifically changes to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, which governs expert witness discovery. The new version of Rule 26 will provide more protection to communications between counsel and a testifying expert witness. The most relevant changes include that draft expert reports and communications relating to an expert's opinions will no longer be discoverable by the other side.
- Deposition preparation should begin early in a matter. This perspective highlights the importance of, an incident reporting network. After an initial meeting with counsel, the corporate representative should learn why he or she was selected to serve as corporate representative, whether there are any deadlines he or she needs to be aware of, the time frame in which the deposition is likely to occur, and the number of documents that the attorney anticipates the corporate representative will need to review. After this meeting, the corporate representative should have a good sense of whether he is the right witness. If so, the representative should expect to meet with counsel at least one more time where the "nitty gritty" details of the case will be discussed. Corporate representatives should be proactive in preparing for depositions and should not hesitate to contact counsel with questions or concerns.
- One speaker noted that it should not be the objective of the corporate representative to "win" the deposition or trial. Rather, their demeanor should reflect that they are trying to be helpful by educating the jury and/or opposing counsel. Thus, it is important to use basic terms that anyone can understand and to maintain a calm presence in front of the jury or, in the case of a videotaped deposition, the videographer.
Ice Miller represents a number of clients on product liability matters, including those in the agricultural and construction equipment industries. For help or more information about how Ice Miller can assist your business with additional background on the litigation process and the important role corporate representatives and technical personnel play in it, please contact Jim Petersen, Judy Okenfuss, or Jen Johnson.