It happens all the time. I’ll give a lecture or mention what I do at a bar association event, and the colleague I just met will express appreciation for what I do, tell me it’s a really neat niche, and then try to convince himself that our practice areas don’t overlap. I’m here to tell you that, yes, they do. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Sorry, Aaron. I handle product liability litigation, not immigration. But thanks for doing that CLE. You’re a funny guy. (Funny how? I’m a clown? I amuse you?) No, I mean I really like how you got that picture of Ned Stark into your slide deck!
Wait a sec, there, pal. First of all… immigration? You’re kidding, right? You did just sit through my lecture on international law, right? Those are not the same concepts. [He’s not kidding, sadly.*]
Second of all (setting my incredulity aside), let’s say you do only handle exploding cell phones, no visa applications ever. What if the phone didn’t spring from the gigantic brain of Steve Jobs? What if it’s a Samsung? Or an LG?
“Oh, easy. I’ll just sue their U.S. subsidiary.”
Yeah, good luck with that, pal. The U.S. subsidiary isn’t the only bad guy in your exploding phone case. What about the Korean parent company that designed the thing? What about the Chinese manufacturer of the battery that can’t seem to do anything but spontaneously combust? Yes, you’re going to have to sue them, too.
“No worries. I can serve Samsung via the sub.” [This fellow obviously failed to grasp that whole “corporate veil” thing in BusOrg class.]
In short, no, you can’t serve the subsidiary, unless you and that subsidiary are in Illinois, where they have a statute allowing such a thing.
The type of product doesn’t matter. Tainted cat food from China? Bad medications from Israel? How about an exploding pop bottle** from Mexico?
Same analysis. Where is the manufacturer? Where is the parent? Where is the real bad guy?
If the defendant is located in another country, you have to observe that other country’s law—and that law is usually spelled out for you in declarations to the Hague Service Convention.
If you don’t get the foreign defendant served properly…
* A huge segment of the practicing bar thinks that international law is immigration law, and immigration law is international law. My local bar association even conflates the two ideas in its committee structure, which is so baffling that both the international lawyers and the immigration lawyers in town have given up trying to convince everybody else.
** In the midwest, a carbonated soft drink is called pop. We do not call it soda. Soda is a powder found in an orange box, used to keep the fridge from stinking. We also don’t call it Coke, like y’all do in the south, because that’s too specific a word, and it’s trademarked to a once-great beverage. We call it pop because, in the early days of the concept, bottles exploded regularly and spawned an entire industry called “product liability litigation.”