Nicholas J. Wittner

Wittner, NicholasProfessor of Law in Residence (on leave 2018-19)
Law College Building
648 N. Shaw Lane Rm 368
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300

  • Biography

    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 nationwide product liability litigation.

    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.

    Prof. Wittner has chaired, served as a keynote speaker, and moderated programs on autonomous vehicles and other advanced automated technologies, most recently at the Autonomous Vehicle Safety Regulation World Congress.  He is one of the nation’s leading experts on legal issues involving these and related technologies. He has also served as the Faculty Adviser to the Law College’s Symposium on “The Transformation of Transportation:  Autonomous Vehicles, Google Cars, and Vehicles Talking to Each Other”.

    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 as well as the Advanced Product Liability seminar course. In addition, Professor Wittner teaches Advanced Civil Procedure and has taught International Civil Litigation in the J.D. program.  He has taught Civil Litigation for Foreign-Educated Lawyers in the Law College’s LL.M Program and published “Civil Litigation for Foreign-Educated Lawyers, an Aspen Custom Textbook now in its fourth edition. Professor Wittner has taught internationally, including in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

  • Degrees

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

  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Courses
    • 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.
    • Automated Vehicles and the Law
      The development of automated vehicles, which can assume all driving functions, as well as connected vehicles that communicate with each other to help avoid crashes, represents a fundamental transformation of transportation. These technologies present a myriad of legal issues, including product liability, cybersecurity, privacy, insurance, criminal law and procedure, federal and state regulation, and patents. The technologies are complex – artificial intelligence, machine learning, human-machine interface, and ethical decision-making designs are all involved. This course explains how the technologies are designed, tested, and developed; the real-life deployments of the vehicles; product liability risks stemming from development decisions; means for mitigating liability risks in design and warnings; liability for cybersecurity breaches including hacking; protection of privacy and liability for illicit intrusions; criminal liability for illicit use of vehicles; and a new paradigm for insurance law when the vehicle becomes the driver. Trial practice likely will also be affected because of the extraordinary complexity of the artificial intelligence design evidence that juries will need to understand. The course will explain how discovery and evidentiary presentation at trial may be managed.
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • Bar Admission(s)

    California, Michigan