Ten Part Legal Marketing Series

Part 8: Product Liability and Defective Goods: When Things Fall Apart

Hands on Keyboard - Content Development iStock_000019971015MediumThe Carbolic Smoke Ball…

Remember the infamous Carbolic Smoke Ball? The 1893 decision in Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company is not just memorable from a literary and historical standpoint; it remains good authority, 120 years later, for important contract law doctrines, including those of offer, acceptance, consideration and misrepresentation. Although the Carbolic Smoke Ball was clearly a useless piece of quackery–Mrs. Emily Carlill did indeed catch the flu–the case is really about how the makers of the product were forced to make good on the 100 Pound reward their ad in the Pall Mall Gazette offered to anyone who caught the flu in spite of using it. The case was about “puffery”–what today we’d call “hype”. Hype has been around forever, long before radio, TV and internet advertising came along.

…and the snail…

The other more recent case (it’s just 75 years old), the snail in the ginger beer bottle case, is still alive and well as legal precedent. The decision in Donaghue v. Stevenson, in 1932, established the duty of care owed by each person in society. In the words of Lord Atkin in the British House of Lords: “You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.” Or likely to injure your customer.

The cases, memorable to lawyers, sometimes seem to come as news to manufacturers. Think of the names recently seen in the media–names like Cingular (cell phones), Fisher-Price and Mattel (toys), Whirlpool (appliances), AMO (contact lens solution products), Epson, Hewlett Packard, Lexmark, Canon, Dell and Brother (ink jet printer cartridges) and Menu Foods (pet food). Over time the bar has been raised distinctly for manufacturers, largely due to the efforts of individual plaintiff lawyers.

…and the hot coffee…

As to the raising of the bar in the law of negligence, just think of the case of the unfortunate woman who was badly burned while driving with a cup of coffee between her legs. The jury awarded her hundreds of thousands of dollars because McDonald’s had failed to state what would seem glaringly obvious–that the coffee was hot. Now, nearly all take-out coffee cups display the caution–“Contents are hot, and could cause injury.”

Here’s the message the coffee vendors received: “Litigation lawyers are hot, and could cause injury.”

The law is far from rigid. As our world changes, we change, and the law and the practice of law are forced to keep up over time. The internet has created new ways for people to receive and share information, and to communicate with one another. The information highway is now billboarded with advertisements and marketing messages. If you need to connect with new clients in your chosen area of expertise, the internet has become your essential medium of public contact.

Moving forward with internet marketing

One of the most economical avenues to take is through OLM’s online news magazine LawyersandSettlements.com (LAS). OLM makes it relatively easy for you, since, for one thing, your investment of time and energy is minimal. You gain immediate exposure to the many visitors to the busy LAS site. You can enter into the world of Online Legal Media by supporting the magazine, by publishing your firm name in the LAS lawyers’ directory and, if you wish, by purchasing LAS advertising. In return you will receive your share of client leads in your specific claim area, as they come in, proportional to your marketing investment with OLM.

When you have your online marketing plan in order, you can turn your energy and inventiveness to your clients’ cases. You can go forth and make law.

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