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What do I do if a child was hurt by a piece of equipment?

What to do if a child was hurt by a piece of equipment in New York.

Children are curious, and because of this they want to explore and see new things.  This often includes objects, and dangerous objects like a stove, toaster, lawnmower, kitchen tool such as a pasta maker or other piece of equipment.

Many equipment manufacturers carefully design their equipment with the understanding that a child could be around the particular object.  Because of this they often conduct studies and testing to determine the potential risks, and based upon those risks made decisions about what safety measures to incorporate onto the equipment, or whether to even bring the device to market.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and in some cases product or equipment manufacturers fail to consider all of the potential risks associated with a product, and as a result design and manufacturer something that creates a severe hazard to a child.

Take, for example, a pasta roller.  This is a device with moving parts, which can easily be accessed by a child if she is spending time in a kitchen with her parent.  A smart and thorough manufacturer would, prior to placing the product for sale, run tests to determine the potential risks to the child – including having a limb caught in the roller – and incorporate safety devices onto the product in order to avoid those risks (in this example, a safety guard).

Except this does not always happen, and when it doesn't, children sustain injuries – often severe and life changing.

Fortunately, when a child is injured by a piece of equipment with a faulty or defective design there may be legal options.  These options will not, of course, turn back time to prevent the accident, but they do have the potential to help the child into the future, and to help prevent the accident from happening again to another child.

The product liablity claim.

When a child is hurt by a piece of equipment, the legal theory is generally that the manufacturer was negligent in its design or manufacture of the product.

The parent or guardian of the child has the legal right to bring a lawsuit against the manufacturer based upon this faulty design or manufacture, essentially arguing that the company knew or should have known of the risks, and should have taken steps to ensure that the product or device was designed in such a way as to avoid the type of accident that occurred.

To prove this claim, the parent/guardian will typically need to bring in an engineer or product expert to inspect the product/device, and to review the manuals, specs and other industry wide products.  This expert – often an engineer – will then make a determination regarding what other options were available, and whether it was feasible for the company to have installed them. 

For this reason, it is critical that the parent keep the product if possible following the accident.  If the parent does not own the product, photographs should be taken if possible.

In the pasta roller example above, if the device did not come equipped with a safety guard which would have prevented the child from getting her arm stuck, it is likely that a good argument could be made that such a device was both foreseeable to the manufacturer as necessary, and was feasible (inexpensive) to implement.

The Legal Action

Once the parent/guardian has explored whether the product was defectively or improperly designed or manufacturer, the next step is to consider legal action on behalf of the child.  This typically takes one of two forms – a “demand letter” or a formal lawsuit.

In the first scenario, the parent/guardian would (typically through their attorney) send a letter to the company, outlining what they did wrong, and demanding that they make payment to the child (via the parent/guardian) to compensate the child for her injuries.  Sometimes this is effective and results in a resolution without the need to file a lawsuit on the child's behalf.  More often it is not.

In the second, more common scenario, the parent/guardian (again through their attorney), will file a lawsuit on behalf of the child.  In the lawsuit, the parent/guardian will seek damages for the child as a result of the faulty design/manufacture.

Damages to the child include any pain/suffering that the child has suffered to date, as well as reimbursement for any medical bills.  Importantly, damages also include future damages; things such as pain and suffering that the child will have in the future, as well as the need for future medical treatment. 

How long will the case take?

Product liability cases on behalf of minors can take time to conclude, often upwards of a year or more.  They are complex cases, typically with multiple expert witnesses, but this should not dissuade the parent/guardian. 

If the parent/guardian is ultimately successful against the company, and receives an award for the child, the funds will typically be placed into an annuity or structured settlement, which will allow the money to earn interest and be paid to the child incrementally as needed over the course of her life.   In this way the parent/guardian has succeeded in helping to ensure that the child is protected into the future as a result of the accident.

Product liability cases on behalf of children are complex, but they are an important way to ensure that companies take appropriate steps to consider safety.  We help parents/guardians navigate this difficult process, and if you have questions please do not hesitate to contact us today.

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