MSU College of Law

Nicholas J. Wittner

Nicholas J. Wittner
[Hi-Res Photo]
Professor of Law in Residence
Law College Building
648 N. Shaw Lane Rm 352
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
517-432-6997
wittner@law.msu.edu

Professor Nicholas Wittner served for 20 years as an assistant general counsel for the Nissan North America Legal Department. He headed the Legal Department's Product Group, which is responsible for the management of product liability litigation, product-related class actions, safety and environmental regulatory compliance matters, and patent litigation. He also advised engineers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Japan on safety compliance, as well as product safety and liability prevention.

Before his work at Nissan, Professor Wittner was an executive attorney at General Motors for 11 years, where he managed complex multi-district product liability litigation. He is one of the nation's leading experts on preemption in product liability cases.

His professional activities have included leadership positions with the ABA Section of Litigation, including co-chair of the ABA's Products Liability Committee. He is a member of the American Law Institute. Professor Wittner served on the Members Consultative Group for and was deeply involved in ALI's Restatement Third on Products Liability. He also was the Chair of the Product Liability Advisory Council. Professor Wittner has been a frequent speaker at ABA and other professional association conferences and authored numerous professional publications.

Professor Wittner also is a member of the Board of Advisers for the Bureau of National Affairs' Product and Safety Liability Reporter, the Class Action Reporter, and Leaders' Product Liability Law and Strategy.

He earned his undergraduate degree, with high honors, from Michigan State University, and graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School, where he was a member of the Wayne Law Review.

Professor Wittner teaches Product Liability Law and practice. He also teaches Civil Litigation for Foreign-Educated Lawyers in the Law College’s LL.M Program.

J.D. 1979, cum laude, Wayne State University Law School; B.S. 1975, with high honors, Michigan State University

  • Advanced Civil Procedure
    The course (a) augments the fundamentals of civil procedures taught in the Civil Procedure I class, covering recent legislation and Supreme Court jurisprudence involving subject matter and personal jurisdiction over domestic as well as international disputes and defendants; (b) explains procedures for discovery practice under the newly-amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including the scope of discovery, discovery plans, and sanctions for failure to preserve electronic records; (c) reviews in greater depth the use of discovery methods, domestically and internationally; (d) describes the new judicial management requirements in federal courts under the new Rules (service of process, court scheduling orders) (e) examines choice of forum and choice of law, as well as conflict of laws (important for transactional lawyers as well as for litigators); (h) explains class action and multi-district litigation practice; and (e) discusses how to enforce judgments, domestically as well as against international defendants with overseas assets.
  • Civil Litigation Practice and Procedure for Foreign Lawyers
    This course explains the litigation process in the United States. It is designed to equip foreign-educated lawyers with the skills needed to manage lawsuits involving companies located abroad or subsidiary companies in the United States. The explanation includes (1) the jurisdiction of Unites States courts over lawsuits by or against these companies, (2) the procedures for filing or accepting a Complaint under the Hague Convention for the Service of Process Abroad and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; (3) discovery under the Federal Rules, especially emerging requirements for electronic data, and the Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad; (4) Rule 30(b)(6) requirements for testimony by corporate witnesses; (5) discovery sanctions; (6) trial procedures, particularly the use of company documents, witness testimony, and government investigations and recall orders as evidence; and, finally, appeal procedures. The fundamental practice skills involve selection of counsel; preparation of case budgets and management of legal fees; early evaluation of cases to decide if they should be tried or settled, and determining settlement values; negotiating settlements; mediating cases; collecting and producing documents and e-data; obtaining confidentiality agreements for proprietary information; preparing witnesses for deposition and trial, as well as at Congressional hearings (especially foreign company witnesses); and preparing for media requests, particularly during trial. These procedures and practice skills will come alive through the use of real-world examples. Students enrolled in this course are not eligible to enroll in International civil Litigation (548K) Open only to students enrolled in the LL.M. for Foreign-Educated Lawyers Program.
  • International Civil Litigation
    (Formerly DCL439) The context of this course is the litigation of claims involving private plaintiffs against both private defendants, who may reside in or be citizens of different countries, and against defendants that are foreign governments or governmental entities. The course will cover the following topics: (1) suing foreign defendants in U.S. courts, also known as personal jurisdiction; (2) choosing the proper forum, including forum non conveniens and forum selection clauses; (3) jurisdiction to prescribe, also known as legislative jurisdiction, including the extraterritorial application of U.S. law; (4) international judicial assistance, including service of process abroad and the taking of evidence abroad; (5) claims against foreign states, foreign sovereign immunity, and the act of state doctrine; and (6) the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments and U.S. judgments abroad. Several international conventions will be studied, including the Hague Convention on Service Abroad and the Hague Convention on Taking Evidence Abroad. This course replaces International Litigation and Arbitration effective fall 2009. Students enrolled in this course are not eligible to enroll in Civil Litigation Practice and Procedure for Foreign Lawyers.
  • Products Liability
    (Formerly DCL 514) This course will focus on the fundamentals of product liability law practical skills. It examines cutting edge issues that product liability trial lawyers deal with every day in litigation including automotive, pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer products, and toxic tort cases, with an emphasis on automotive design defect litigation that forms a major part of the law. Real-life, current major cases in litigation will be used so that students will be exposed to how product liability litigation is managed. Students will analyze federal legislation and recent case law, including U.S. Supreme Court decisions, learn about regulatory agencies such as NHTSA, FDA and the CPSC, and consider how regulatory agency rules and regulations have a substantial impact on product development and litigation. Students will develop expertise in important topics including expert witness testimony; complex demonstrative exhibits like accident reconstruction, biomechanics, and crash testing; federal preemption; and punitive damages. The course will also cover what companies must do to promote product safety and avoid potential civil and criminal liability. This course provides the perspective of a professor experienced in international product liability law who managed high-exposure litigation and advised clients about liability prevention during product development. The course will equip students with the skills needed to prosecute or defend product liability litigation and also to counsel manufactures to avoid help litigation. The class uses an interactive discussion and is highlighted by distinguished guest speakers and the use of high-technology classroom capabilities, including video-conferences with actual expert witnesses.
  • Topics in Tort Law: Advanced Products Liability
    This is a seminar course involving advanced product liability law topics. The course will examine current and recent case studies of high-profile litigation to dissect complex design, failure to warn, and misrepresentation theories of liability; affirmative defenses including preemption; mass tort litigation involving personal injury; and litigation for pure economic loss. Students will also learn about Congressional investigations involving defective products; governmental agency investigations and imposition of civil penalties; and criminal investigations and penalties. Measures to avoid or reduce liability will also be explored. Students will select a topic from one of the case studies for preparation of a paper and presentation for class discussion.

California, Michigan