Locating recently filed lawsuits
August 14, 2013 10:40 AM   Subscribe

How might I locate recently filed lawsuits alleging a particular product defect?

Does anyone have a method of finding out whether/where lawsuits with particular facts have been recently filed?

I'm interested in general advice, but specifically what I am looking for is any cases alleging a particular product defect. There is one manufacturer I am particularly interested in, but similar products are produced by other manufacturers. I am interested in cases in any U.S. jurisdiction, state or federal.

I don't believe Westlaw/Lexis would be useful for what I'm interested in, as the cases are more likely to be in state court, and likely to have been recently filed (so possibly no significant court orders exist).

Any thoughts would be appreciated.
posted by dredge to Law & Government (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Try PACER. It's federal, and you'll have to create an account, but it costs almost nothing - just a few cents per page. You'll be able to search specifically for that manufacturer.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:50 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can get daily reports of lawsuits filed in state courts from the Courthouse News Service. I'm not sure how much it costs to subscribe, though.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:55 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

the cases are more likely to be in state court

Products manufacturers try to remove whenever possible so you should be able to find a good amount on PACER. It's going to take some time (you need to search for all lawsuits coded as 365 Personal Injury - Products Liability & 385 Property Damage - Products Liability & 195 Contract Product Liability and then read the complaint for each) but I don't know of any shortcut.

There's no centralized state court search engine that I'm aware of, I think you'll have to go to each individual state's judiciary website (and for many states, to each county's website) and do individual searches for lawsuits against the manufacturer, and even then you would probably not be able to see the complaint online.

Have you tried google? (Not kidding, sometimes news articles regarding new lawsuits come up.) Once you have the name of the case and the court you can find someone locally on craigslist who can go to the courthouse and get you a copy of the complaint.
posted by slmorri at 12:01 PM on August 14, 2013

I'm not aware of a good/cheap way to do this. There are services (such as Courthouse News) which do this, in part, and the "big guys" have things like Lexis Courtlink. As I remember it, CNS does a bit of copy-and-paste from the complaints; Courtlink is more of a "search the docket text" (but not the pleading text) service.

Other than the data aggregators, for state-court lawsuits you are stuck with going court-by-court. I have practiced in states without a statewide docket search system, which means you're stuck with manually checking each local court website, if you're lucky enough for it to be online. Further, in other jurisdictions I'm familiar with, you have to register individually with each local court (sometimes with fees). It's ugly.

For federal courts, people telling you to search PACER might be giving you false hope. The PACER party-name index will let you do searches across all of the federal court docketing system, but this can become extremely unwieldy if the company is frequently sued. As slmorri points out, you can search on what's coded in the PACER cover sheet, but I would be very hesitant to ascribe any sort of comprehensiveness to the coding there.

For party-name searches, especially at the early stages of the case, you are somewhat at the mercy of who the plaintiffs choose to name. Sometimes plaintiffs get the manufacturer name wrong (or sometimes they don't even know and it's a John Doe lawsuit).

And if you're unlucky enough to be trying to do this for a company or industry that has numerous products liability cases going on at once, and you're only interested in a narrow slice...Yeah, this is ugly.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:29 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The insurance industry actually has a pretty good line on this, as loss information is frequently shared. ISO ClaimSearch is one such product. And it's the kind of thing where if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it. Tens of thousands of dollars, easily, and they won't even sell it to non-insurance professionals.

So if you had access to a database like that, you'd not only know about suits that have been filed, but about claims that are made/settled without ever ending up in court. But unless you work in the right department at an insurance company (i.e., you're an actuary or claims professional), there's about zero chance that you'll be able to get that information easily.
posted by valkyryn at 6:20 PM on August 14, 2013

Echoing QM and valkyryn. The great majority of my practical experience is in the area of medical malpractice defense, which at times has spilled over into defects in medical equipment, and our firm has never had access to ClaimSearch or anything like that as far as I know. When you're too down in the weeds for Wexis to return much, it quickly becomes a piecemeal slog.

You can't expect much from a free service, but Justia does offer some kind of docket scraping on the state level (it's in beta):

Justia > Dockets & Filings > Torts - Injury > Personal Injury- Product Liability
(Marine, Aircraft and Motor Vehicle Product Liability have separate categories under Tort-Injury)
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:54 AM on August 15, 2013

Here are the new product liability case listings from LN's "Law360" newsletter.

There's also some kind of fly-by-night service at lawsuitstoday.com, offering "actual complaints in new lawsuits at Internet speed" -- entering "product liability" into their search box returns results that have brief factual summaries. I haven't looked at their rate structure, but they do note that they will do a "custom search" for $50 (i.e. do it for you--I don't know if that gets you the complaints too, or just the search results).
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:03 AM on August 15, 2013

« Older Most cost effective way to purchase Office 2010 in...   |   Syncing files on a remote web server with Windows... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.