My news feeds this morning are alive with the re-posting of tweets and other social media blasts related to injuries suffered by the recipients of, generically, the Hoverboard. These products remind me of the rollout of the Segway, and the inevitable claims and lawsuits for injuries that followed a truly revolutionary concept in human transportation.
The Segway was expensive, though. Really expensive. And they have handles.
Hoverboards, on the other hand, are running about $400. Price, and a steady stream of media stories leading up to Christmas made the product a hot gift this year. A large sales volume of a relatively revolutionary concept in personal travel (without handles!) over a short time will mean that these manufacturers will be inundated with claims, and attempts to certify class action lawsuits, in the coming year.
Responding to those claims, evaluating accidents their causes, categorizing injuries and organizing the response to the inevitable claims will directly affect the bottom line of these manufacturers and their insurers over the coming several years.
The biggest challenge is to organize and evaluate the claims and make rational and objective attempts to categorize them for further evaluation. Typically, the causes of accidents will fall into one or more of several readily defined causes (i.e., alcohol consumption, physical infirmity of the rider, failure to follow instructions, etc.) Thorough collection and evaluation of claims data provides invaluable information to management and to legal departments, which can be used for a variety of purposes.
Manufacturers, distributors and sellers must develop a cogent responsive framework, and instill rational and objective evaluations of how the claims relate to the design of the product. If the product design requires adjustment, properly collected claims data is an invaluable piece of the overall effort. The more rapid the collection and evaluation of that data, the faster the design response. The ultimate goal is always a safer product and fewer claims. Competent collection and analysis of claims data is a critical piece of this effort.
Developing Response Strategies for Claims
If manufacturers fail to adopt a responsive framework to claims that follow a product rollout, they do so at their peril. Spend the money at the front-end. It will pay off when the barrage of lawsuits for broken wrists and head injuries are filed in earnest in January and February (looking at you again, Hoverboard). The developer of the Segway famously perished onboard his creation, and that fact has become a theme in the litigation involving those products.
Manufacturers must be honest about any weakness in their design or manufacturing criteria. Have you sought and completely satisfied the requirements of industry groups (UL, FM, ANSI)? Hoverboards are all-new, and the more front-end safety work the companies have done, the simpler and more defined the response to the claims wave will be.
The identification and retention of an experienced products investigation group, including inside and outside counsel and inside and outside technical investigators, with common goals and response strategies is critical. This may be your first major product rollout, but there are many of us who have been down this road before. Seek us out now, and let us help you implement the strategies you will need to survive and thrive any product rollout.