Shook, Hardy & Bacon Partner Victor Schwartz weighs in on how courts play important roles as gatekeepers in product liability cases in a September 29 Virginia Lawyers Weekly article, “Product Liability Rulings Concern Plaintiffs’ Bar.”
Virginia judges recently nullified three jury verdicts for alleged victims in product liability cases, faulting expert testimony as a key consideration in their decisions. These decisions have led plaintiffs’ lawyers to consider legislative and statutory reform options as the federal court continues its heightened scrutiny for expert testimonies, making it harder for plaintiff attorneys to win.
In light of the recent decisions, Schwartz notes that experts are often considered credible simply due to their titles and are able to offer opinions based on information that may not be entirely verified. Many lawyers and manufacturers claim that these recent rulings showcase the proper role of the courts as gatekeepers in a trial process where sympathetic jurors and unwarranted expert opinions could create problems. “The gatekeeper role is vital because of the nature of these experts,” said Schwartz.
“When a wrongdoer is unavailable, or a drunken driver, or does not have insurance, plaintiffs’ lawyers try to stretch product liability law so they can hold the auto manufacturer liable,” Schwartz explains. “I call that ‘deep pocket jurisprudence.’”
In order to protect the trial process from unverified expert opinions and overly sympathetic jurors, Schwartz asserts that the role of courts as gatekeepers is essential to provide balance in product liability trials.