Columbia Managing Partner Joel Smith's pivotal role in two of the most high-profile product liability crises to confront the automotive sector in recent history was the central focus of a Law360 feature published in the wake of his recognition as a 2015 Product Liability MVP.
Joel has been at the helm of the Takata airbag crisis on behalf of Honda Motor Company, leading the corporation in every aspect of the crisis — Department of Justice investigations, Congressional testimonies, NHTSA inquiries and reporting, Unfair Trade Practice claims, RICO, class actions, the onslaught of discovery requests, defense of individual product liability claims, and perhaps most importantly, overall science and technical mastery.
To effectively maneuver through a matter on such a complex and widespread scale, Joel fully immersed himself into the science and technology of the product under scrutiny; how it works, how it's built, and the history behind the product. According to Law360, "He likened the process to earning a post-graduate degree in a topic that would qualify him to teach a course on the crisis. And teach he does, to judges, company executives, company media-relations officials and others who face making decisions or statements pertaining to the crisis. He then works to develop strategies using the data."
It’s no accident that Joel was chosen to take on this decisive role. Previously, for four years, he did yeoman’s work for Toyota on its unintended acceleration litigation, some of the highest profile litigation in the company's history. Joel has long focused on automotive cases – product liability and mass torts – and has represented manufacturers of automobiles, tires, forklifts, and other heavy equipment. He has built a reputation as a first-chair trial lawyer who knows the crux of any good defense lies in a complete understanding of the science and facts behind the product in question.
"You've got to learn it well enough to teach it," he said to Law360." That's the anxiety that builds inside you and makes you push for the detail you need. You know that one of these days you might be standing in front of a jury, or in front of an MDL judge, or a client's regulator, [and] you've got to know it well enough to teach it to them."
Hearty congratulations to Joel on this impressive honor.
Read Joel's full Law360 Product Liability MVP profile.