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How Georgia Law Affects the Time to Bring a Product Liability Claim

There is always some kind of deadline when it comes to a personal injury claim. For example, in product liability cases–i.e., a lawsuit against a manufacturer who produces a dangerous or defective item that injures someone–Georgia imposes a 10-year “statute of repose.” A statute of repose is similar to a statute of limitation. Both set a cut-off date for a plaintiff to bring his or her claim before the court.

Gaddy v. Terex Corporation

The 10-year statute of repose begins with the “first sale for use or consumption of the personal property” that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s injuries. So, let’s say you bought a car in 2008. You are later injured in an auto accident due to a defect in the car’s design. This means the statute of repose will expire in 2018.

However, if you are injured by a defective item more than 10 years after its first sale, you are not necessarily barred from bringing a product liability claim. Georgia makes an exception to the 10-year deadline if a plaintiff’s injury was the result of “willful, reckless, or wanton disregard for life or property.” In other words, if the manufacturer knew there might be a defect in its product that could harm individuals or property, and failed to take appropriate action, then they cannot hide behind the statute of repose.

Here is an example of how Georgia judges assess whether a manufacturer’s actions could meet the “willful, reckless, or wanton disregard” standard. This is an ongoing case before a federal judge in Atlanta. The plaintiff was working in the bucket of an aerial lift device, which is commonly called a cherry picker. Suddenly, the vehicle’s “lower boom stub fractured,” according to court records, throwing the plaintiff to the ground and paralyzing him for life.

The plaintiff sued the manufacturer of the cherry picker, alleging negligent manufacture, negligent design, and failure to provide adequate safety warnings. The defendant moved to dismiss the case, noting the device that injured the plaintiff was first sold for consumer use more than 10 years ago. The plaintiff acknowledged this, but said there was evidence the manufacturer was willful and reckless during the design phase of the cherry picker.

Specifically, the plaintiff presented evidence that the defendant ignored the results of its own internal stress testing on the cherry picker. Rather than remedy the problem, it allowed the cherry pickers to be sold to the public, demonstrating a “reckless disregard” for the potential injuries it might cause. The judge said the plaintiff could present this theory to the jury. If the jury agrees that this was the case, the 10-year statute of repose would not prevent the plaintiff from collecting damages.

Unfortunately, the judge rejected most of the plaintiff’s other product liability claims. Notably, the judge found the plaintiff’s “failure to warn” argument lacked merit. (Incidentally, failure to warn claims are not subject to the 10-year statute of repose.) The crux of the plaintiff’s argument was that the warning labels and the manual for the cherry picker did not contain adequate warnings about the device’s load capacity. While that may be the case, the judge dismissed the plaintiff’s claim because he admitted he never read any of these notifications prior to his accident.