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Address the Most Dangerous Feature of Your Product: Dishonesty, by Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm, Persuasive Litigator Blog


One stereotype of the litigious American society suggests that jurors are willing to hold manufacturers and sellers responsible for even the most obvious product dangers:  a ladder that allows its user to fall, or a cup of coffee that turns out to be hot. While anecdotes abound — some true, and some false — our experience is that product danger alone rarely drives a verdict. Instead, jurors need to see something else in order to generate sufficient anger to deliver any sizeable verdict against the company. That ‘something else’ can be boiled down to one word:  dishonesty. Jurors know that products are dangerous. They have no trouble placing personal responsibility on adults who knowingly use dangerous products. What they are less able to abide is incomplete information. Whether the company is failing to investigate, providing inadequate or false warnings, working around regulations, or simply withholding information, the jury is less willing to say ‘buyer and user beware’ and more willing to put responsibility on manufacturers and sellers.

With 10 of the top 50 verdicts of last year coming from defective product suits, we do know that jurors are willing to hold manufacturers responsible. At the same time, the important ingredients that drive those damages are often found in the company’s behavior rather than in the product itself. A good example can be found in attitudes and behaviors surrounding tobacco use. Based on the results of a pair of studies, the public is more likely to reject a ‘deceptive’ product than it is to reject a merely ‘dangerous’ product. . . .