Articles Posted in Dangerous Products

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In December of last year, a Georgia appellate court heard a case brought by the parents of a four-year-old boy who was killed after the gas tank in the Jeep Grand Cherokee in which he was a passenger caught fire. In the case, Chrysler Group v. Walden, the court dismissed each of the manufacturer’s claims of error and agreed that Chrysler acted with a “reckless or wanton disregard for human life,” affirming the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

Fueling UpThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s four-year-old son, Remington, was a back-seat passenger in his aunt’s Jeep Grand Cherokee when another motorist rear-ended them. As a result of the collision, the Jeep’s gas tank ruptured, and the vehicle caught fire. Remington’s aunt was able to escape the fire herself but was tragically unable to rescue her nephew. He died in the fire.

Remington’s parents filed a product liability case against Chrysler, the manufacturer of the Jeep, arguing that it acted with a “reckless or wanton disregard for human life” in designing, manufacturing, and continuing to sell the vehicle despite its knowledge of the dangers associated with the gas tank’s placement. After a trial, the jury determined that Chrysler was 99% at fault for the accident and returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for a total of $150 million. That figure was later reduced to $40 million. Chrysler appealed on several grounds.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a product liability case, discussing the spoliation doctrine and how it should be applied when evidence was destroyed by a party before trial. In the case, Cooper Tire & Rubber v. Koch, the court determined that the plaintiff’s destruction of certain evidence that was relevant to her product liability case against the defendant was not a violation of the spoliation doctrine and did not require the court to impose sanctions against her.

TiresThe Facts of the Case

Koch was driving eastbound on Interstate 16 in a Ford Explorer when his tire blew out. The blow-out caused Koch to lose control of the vehicle, ultimately ending in an accident that seriously injured Koch. After the accident, Koch was taken to the intensive care unit for recovery.

While her husband was in the hospital, Mrs. Koch received a call from the towing company, telling her that she was incurring a daily storage fee for her husband’s vehicle. She explained that she could not afford the fee. The owner of the towing company told her that she could sign the title over to him so that he could sell the totaled vehicle for scrap to satisfy her debt. She discussed this with her husband, who agreed but asked that the towing company owner “save the tires.” Shortly after this, Koch died, and his wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer of the blown-out tire.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court applied the attorney work product privilege to protect the undisclosed findings of a plaintiff’s unused expert. In the case, Malashock v. Jamison, the court determined that a plaintiff does not waive the work product privilege when they initially designate an expert as one who will testify during the trial but then later determine not to have the expert testify at trial.

ATVThe Attorney Work Product Privilege

Most people have heard about the attorney-client privilege that acts to protect information conveyed to an attorney by his or her client in almost all cases. The attorney work product privilege is similar, in that it prevents an opposing party from obtaining certain information. However, unlike the attorney-client privilege, the work product privilege protects any information prepared in anticipation by a party’s attorney. For example, a memorandum written from an attorney to their client expressing concerns about weaknesses in the client’s case would almost certainly be protected.

A Plaintiff Discloses an Expert and Then Changes His Mind

In the case, Malashock v. Jamison, the plaintiff was injured while riding a utility vehicle that the defendant had sold him. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, claiming that the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous and not properly serviced. To help prove his case, the plaintiff designated four expert witnesses. One of the witnesses was to explain to the jury the forces involved in the accident and how the vehicle’s frame performed under the stresses of the accident. No specific information was released about the expert’s proposed testimony.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case brought by the owner of a Mazda Miata against the car’s manufacturer. In the case, Holiday Motor Corporation v. Walters, the plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer breached an implied warranty of merchantability by not creating a soft-top convertible that was capable of withstanding a rollover crash. Ultimately, the court rejected the plaintiff’s claims and imposed judgment for the defendant car manufacturer, based on the fact that the manufacturer did not have a duty to create a soft-top convertible capable of withstanding a rollover crash.

MiataThe Facts of the Case

Walters was driver her 1995 Mazda Miata on a two-lane road when she noticed a large object fall off the truck in front of her. In an attempt to avoid the object, Walters steered the car to the left, across the oncoming lane of traffic, and off the side of the road. As the car left the roadway, it traveled up a slight incline that caused the vehicle to roll over. Eventually, the car came to a stop with the car upside down leaning partially against a tree.

A good Samaritan stopped to render assistance to Walter, who was trapped inside. He testified at trial that when he arrived on the scene, the car was lying flat on the ground upside down. Only the rear of the car was slightly elevated. Walters sustained serious back and neck injuries as a result of the accident, and she filed a product liability case against Mazda. She argued that the soft-top convertible should have been able to maintain its integrity during the accident.

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After an individual has been injured or killed due to the negligence of another party or company, that person or their family member may wish to bring a lawsuit against the culpable party to recoup the losses they suffered because of the injury. If liability is established, the amount they are entitled to will depend on several factors including where the injury occurred, the liability apportioned to them, the types of injury they suffered, and the type of compensation they are seeking.

courtroom-898931_960_720There are generally two types of damages in personal injury cases, special or general. These are then broken down into two further categories:  compensatory or punitive. Generally, compensatory damages are designed to make the injured party “whole again.” These damages, as the name implies, compensate the injured party for the losses and expenses they incurred as a result of the accident. Some examples of these may include property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and loss of consortium. On the other hand, punitive damages are designed solely to punish the wrongdoer. Punitive damages are often significant, since they are designed to deter the type of behavior that resulted in the injury.

Some types of damages have limits, or “caps,” on how much can be awarded. Under Georgia law, there are no caps on compensatory damages for injuries that are a result of medical malpractice. For a brief period of time, there was a cap on non-economic damages, but the Georgia Supreme Court held that cap to be unconstitutional.

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It has been almost exactly eight years since the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the federal “Daubert” standard that was adopted in 2005. The Daubert standard is what a court applies when determining whether an expert witness will be permitted to testify on a given subject at trial.

red-car-1418847Under the standard, the district courts are supposed to “act as gatekeepers” when evaluating expert witnesses, and they may only allow testimony if it is both “reliable and relevant.” To do this, the district courts must conduct a thorough evaluation of the expert testimony. The “gatekeepers” must make a determination regarding whether (1) the expert is competently qualified to address the matters he intends to address; (2) the methodology used is sufficiently reliable; and (3) the testimony assists the trier of fact through scientific, technical, or specialized expertise.

Additionally, the courts must address whether (1) the expert’s theory has been tested; (2) the theory has been publicized and made subject to peer evaluation; (3) the rate of error has been addressed; and (4) it is generally accepted within the scientific community. Often, courts will also address whether there are other types of evidence to support the expert witnesses’ testimony, such as cases, anecdotal evidence, and peer-reviewed studies or research. In many situations, the crux of a plaintiff’s or defendant’s argument rests solely on an expert witness’ testimony. As a result, it is very important that plaintiffs have an attorney who can acquire, vet, and prepare an expert witness to testify.

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After individuals are injured by another person’s negligent behavior, the victim often reaches the logical conclusion that the party that caused the injury should be held accountable. However, many times plaintiffs in these cases do not comprehend the reach of liability, as well as the fact that there may be additional parties responsible for the actual injury. In a negligence analysis, even a party that did not actually physically cause the injury may be considered to be proximately responsible for the accident and held liable accordingly.

380-bullets-1505776This reach of liability sometimes occurs in cases in which a person who is injured by a truck driver sues the trucking company for their negligence in failing to hire or train the employee. It may also occur when an individual is hurt because of a defect in a product, and the injured plaintiff sues the manufacturer or distributor of the faulty product. In these cases, plaintiffs must prove each of the necessary prongs of a negligence lawsuit for each named defendant.

One interesting area of the law that is still developing is third-party liability for the sellers of dangerous weapons and ammunition. Sadly, individuals are injured by gun violence with some regularity. As a result, the surviving loved ones want justice and occasionally attempt to bring a case against the seller of the gun or ammunition.

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