Skip Eubanks Is Not Your Ordinary Product Liability Defense Lawyer

11.25.14 | Permalink

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A partner in the Orlando office of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, Skip Eubanks focuses his practice on product liability. He primarily represents manufacturers within transportation-related industries such automotive, motorcycle, marine and tires.

Skip shares insights about his practice, client relationships, and life outside the office.

I’ve been building long-term relationships with clients since the very beginning of my career.   Obviously, an attorney has to do his homework, get to know the client and always be accessible. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with General Motors since 1986 and a number of other major manufacturers for decades as well. Over the years, I’ve really learned the ins and outs of their business – what makes their product stand out.

Most large manufacturers have in-house counsel. These lawyers are intimately involved in every aspect of their products, from design conception to marketing and end use. They are also zealous protectors of the company’s reputation. My role as the outside attorney is to make the in-house attorneys look good, make their job easier and keep them abreast of every eventuality – no surprises – they really hate surprises.

A product liability lawyer has to understand the complexities of a case, from how the product is constructed to how a case unfolds. The engineering aspect of product liability is extremely interesting. It starts with understanding the investment a manufacturer puts into designing a product – the research, time and commitment. Then, when an accident happens, being able to reconstruct the details is a very exacting process. Hands-on vehicle examinations reveal a wealth of information. For instance, many times we can know how many times a vehicle rolls over in an accident by simply studying the scratch marks. The patterns of scratches in the paint and metal, how deep they are and the types of scratches, tell a very detailed story. Working hand-in-hand with engineers and in-house counsel is very rewarding.

It also helps that I have a genuine interest in transportation industries. I started racing motocross as a kid and frequently enjoy taking my Harley out for a ride. I have been fortunate to be able to channel my passion for motorcycles and muscle cars into my legal work. Having that deep understanding of how vehicles are engineered and how they work, which comes from years of tinkering with my bikes, cars and boats really helps. 

Finding the right product liability attorney can be difficult. Too many general litigation attorneys will claim to understand and practice product liability. Manufacturers should look for someone who understands their industry from the inside out. Someone who doesn’t mind rolling up his or her sleeves and dirtying their hands. Someone who takes the time to learn the dynamics of the company and how the product works – the reasons behind the original concept that led to designing the product and what differentiates it from the competition. And, most importantly, someone who sees the big picture, taking into account the company’s integrity and reputation.

Good product liability lawyers know it’s not just about coming to a quick resolution, settling a case and getting it over with. When someone attacks the design of a product, they are essentially attacking the company’s reputation – a reputation built on designing products aimed at making people’s lives easier or more rewarding. These are times when a company has to protect itself and having top-notch counsel in your corner can make all the difference in the world. While an early settlement can be less costly in the short term, it can also attract more lawsuits and can have a long-term negative effect on the company’s reputation.

I believe the key to a happy life is in striking the right balance – work hard and play hard. Outside of restoring old muscle cars, riding my motorcycle, and competing in practical pistol competitions, I try to get down to the Florida Keys as often as possible. I have a home there and spend a lot of time fishing and diving. Spearfishing while free diving and holding your breath rather than scuba diving has become one of my passions. Hunting fish in their environment while still being reliant at the surface for air is extremely exciting, sometimes dangerous and rigorous. I also love going to the Bahamas with my boat and diving the crystal clear waters of the Abacos. Just this past summer, while running the boat back to Florida, the water was so clear you could count starfish on the bottom. There is nothing like it.

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