A Georgia State Class You Wish You Were Taking: Products Liability and Safety
Products Liability and Safety | College of Law
TAUGHT BY » Timothy D. Lytton, Distinguished University Professor, College of Law
Martin Grace, Regents Professor of Risk Management & Insurance, Robinson College of Business
Terry Pechacek, Professor of Health Management & Policy, School of Public Health
WHAT IT’S ABOUT » Lytton holds up a seemingly nondescript grill brush and then photos of surgical scars. “The company that produces these brushes has received three complaints from consumers who were seriously injured after ingesting wire bristles. The bristles detached while being used to clean grills, and then stuck to food that was cooked on the grill. All three victims required surgery to extract the bristles. Your client, the manufacturer, has sold 10,000 of these brushes. What advice do you have about a corrective action plan? Should a recall be issued?”
It’s the topic of the day in Products Liability and Safety, which has also examined exploding cars, “gluten-free” Cheerios contaminated with wheat dust, shampoo that causes hair loss, window blind cords that strangle small children and more. The course provides an interdisciplinary regulatory science approach to products liability litigation and introduces students to the larger context of product safety, which includes regulation by government agencies, business supply-chain management, private standard setting by trade associations and insurance underwriting.
In one class, students simulated pretrial settlement negotiations related to a foodborne illness outbreak traced to Salmonella contamination of raw chicken parts. Students representing injured plaintiffs, the chicken processor, a major retailer and an insurance company negotiated a multi-party settlement. Such exercises teach students how to advise clients, engage in motion practice, argue in front of juries, conduct settlement negotiations and lobby legislatures and policymakers.
WHY IT’S UNIQUE » The course teaches students to apply careful legal analysis to “contexts where you are missing information and people have made prior mistakes that you need to clean up,” Lytton said. “Typical law classes tend to deal with issues that have solutions, and you have to figure out what the solution is. In the real world, lawyers tend to deal with issues that have solutions but someone missed the opportunity to solve the problem, and now there is a bigger problem.”
Having three professors is also unique. Grace and Pechacek offer an added dimension of business and public health concerns and implications of legal decisions that isn’t available in many classes, Lytton said.
WHAT STUDENTS SAY » “Professor Lytton’s method of teaching—where lessons are done at home and homework is done in class—makes for much more interesting class time,” said student Jessica Leach. “He has said, ‘If you come to class and feel like you’re in the hot seat for an hour and 15 minutes, good. It should feel that way.’”
“The class is also unique because he has arranged for several attorneys involved in ongoing products liability cases to talk to our class via Skype. In the lesson in food safety litigation, we Skyped with Bill Marler in Seattle, who is representing victims in the Chipotle outbreaks. In the lesson on gun industry litigation, we Skyped with Joshua Koskoff, who is representing the victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.”
— Stacey Evans
Photo: Steven Thackston