The first reported case involving ISO 9001 in a product liability lawsuit was Case IH Cotton Picker Fire Products Liability Litigation. On June 21, 1999 the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas ordered defendant Case Company to turn over ISO Manual Materials to plaintiff’s attorneys for evaluation. In requesting the materials plaintiffs observed that 140 fires occurred between 1994 and 1997 to cotton pickers valued between approximately $90,000 and $200,000. “The number of fires alone caused alarm and concern. However, the significance of the problem is magnified by the fact that these losses were preventable and that Defendant is doing nothing to correct and prevent the losses as required by its own ISO 9001 program.”
The plaintiff’s brief stated, “… the ISO 9000 standards and its own quality assurance procedures requires that it conduct an analysis of the fires and that it take corrective and preventive action.” Therefore, plaintiffs’ attorneys requested that Defendant Case Company turn over all other ISO 9000 documents relating to these cotton picker fires. Plaintiffs’ legal brief argued that, “Defendant’s ISO 9000 quality assurance manual and all other ISO 9000 documents relating to these cotton picker fires are discoverable.”
Plaintiffs’ noted, “The manufacturer must have a procedure to process customer complaints to detect, analyze and eliminate potential causes of non-conformance. Lastly, ISO 9000 requires that the documents generated to comply with the certification be submitted to management for review. It is these documents that [plaintiff] seeks to review.” Plaintiffs’ attorneys stated that they, “… seek damages from the defendant for failure to design and manufacture a cotton picker that will perform without catching on fire during normal operations and seek punitive damages for failure to properly investigate the product failures which would have disclosed the product defect and prevented millions of dollars in property losses.”
“If defendant failed to comply with its own ISO 9000 certification, that information is relevant to the issue of negligence and punitive damages. If defendant complied with its own ISO 9000 procedures, but these procedures are themselves inadequate, [plaintiff] is entitled to discover that information because it also would be relevant on the issue of negligence.” Finally, the brief noted that “[plaintiff] has good cause to believe that the defendant made the conscious decision to deviate from a procedure it established to investigate product failures to cover up the obvious…It is impossible to determine whether the defendant chose to deviate from its normal course of investigation without review of the ISO 9000 manual.”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys wanted to examine corrective action review minutes and management review minutes to determine if Case Company had followed its own ISO 9001 corrective action procedures. If not, why not? Since an attorney had been present during the corrective action review, Case Company argued that the corrective action review minutes fell under attorney-client privilege and therefore did not have to be turned over in legal discovery. The US District Court Judge ordered Case Company to turn over the minutes. Case Company appealed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to overturn the judge’s decision. The US Circuit Court denied defendant’s petition. Case Company then filed a Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. On June 5, 2000 the US Supreme Court denied the Writ thereby upholding the District Court Judges decision that Case Company turnover its minutes of management review and corrective action to plaintiffs attorneys.