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Product liability cases jump in last five years, but defendants win more often

product liability

The number of product liability cases filed against companies has increased significantly over the past five years, but defendants have overwhelmingly won cases that were resolved on substantive grounds, says a report issued Thursday.

The 5,826 cases filed in federal district courts in 2022 were an 89% increase from the lowest number of cases filed in any year over the past decade, which was in 2015, says the report issued by Menlo Park, California-based Lex Machina, a LexisNexis company.

The report said there was a brief drop in cases, to 4,260, in 2021 that may have been impacted in part by the global pandemic and its effect on product liability litigation.

It said while the bulk of product liability cases terminated in the last five years were either settled or resolved on procedural grounds, of those that were resolved on substantive grounds, claim defendants won more than five times as often as claimants, primarily on summary judgment on the pleadings. 

The report said claimant wins were spread over trial, default judgment, consent judgment and summary judgment.

A total of $214 million in damages were awarded as approved class actual settlement damages over the five-year period, the report said.

Medical device/pharmaceutical cases were the most common type of subset of product liability cases, followed by vehicle cases. 

The number of medical device/pharmaceutical cases filed over the past 10 years has remained relatively steady with the exception of 2018 to 2020, in which an elevated number were filed each year, the report said. The cases in these years were driven by groups of cases filed in single courts against manufacturers over particular products, it said.

The report said liability cases involving vehicles have increased steadily over the past decade, except for a minor dip in 2021.