Articles Posted in Dangerous/Defective Products

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Guardrail accidents have gained increasing public attention in recent years. A guardrail is supposed to help a vehicle absorb the impact of a collision, but in far too many cases, it is the guardrail that causes serious injury or death. As reported by ABC News in 2014, a University of Alabama study found that “a re-designed version of a widely used guardrail end terminal ‘placed motorists at a higher level of risk of both serious injury and fatality’ than the original version.”

Stopanio v. Leon’s Fence and Guardrail, LLC

More recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed the potential legal liability of the state Department of Transportation and one of its private contractors for an allegedly defective guardrail. This tragic case began with a 2011 accident on I-75. The plaintiff was driving southbound on the highway through Valdosta. Traveling in front of the plaintiff was a second car containing her parents.

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When it comes to product liability, Georgia courts have long held that a manufacturer can be held responsible for its “failure to warn” customers about potentially harmful defects that it knew about (or should have known about). This duty extends to any “nonobvious foreseeable danger” arising from the normal use of a given product. In other words, a manufacturer has no duty to warn you of the risks of using its product in something other than its intended manner.

Reichwaldt v. General Motors LLC

Does this duty to warn extend to third parties–i.e., individuals other than the actual customers–who may be harmed by the normal use of the product? In 2016 we discussed a Georgia Supreme Court decision, Certainteed Corporation v. Fletcher, involving a pipe manufacturer whose products contained asbestos. In that case, a woman developed mesothelioma after inhaling asbestos dust from clothing worn by her father, who worked with the defendant’s pipes. The Supreme Court said it was “disinclined” to hold that the manufacturer “owed a duty to warn third parties based on the fact that, in this case, such a warning may have been effective.”

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“Keep your eyes on the road,” is something every parent tells their teenager when teaching them how to drive. But paying attention to the road has become increasingly difficult in recent years with the advent of smartphone technology that makes it easy for people to text or chat with their friends while driving. “Distracted driving” is now considered a public safety problem on par with drunk driving.

More Than 3,000 Distracted Driving Deaths Every Year

The dangers of distracted driving are quite real. According to a recent New York Times article, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 272 teenagers were killed throughout the country in 2015 in “distraction-affected” car accidents. Overall, 3,263 out of 3,477 crash-related deaths in 2015–94%–involved distracted driving.

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Every day, millions of parents entrust the safety of their children to the cars they drive. If there is a defect in a vehicle’s manufacture or design, a parent may not learn about until it is too late and their child has paid the price. When that happens, parents understandably want to hold the vehicle manufacturer responsible.

Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed such a terrible and tragic case. In 2012, a woman was driving her 4-year-old nephew to an activity when her Jeep Grand Cherokee was rear-ended by another driver. Upon impact, the Jeep’s fuel tank exploded, setting the vehicle on fire. According to court records, the 4-year-old “was alive and conscious while the Grand Cherokee was on fire and may have lived up to a minute with flames in contact with his body” before he died.

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We often hear about cases in which a person is injured in an accident due to a defect in the manufacturing of a car. But there are also cases in which someone may be injured due to an improper repair made to a car. As with manufacturing and design defects, a bad repair may not be immediately obvious to the driver, yet still produce catastrophic effects months, even years, later.

Lee v. Universal Underwriters Insurance Company

In 2005, a well-known auto manufacturer issued a recall for one of its 2000 model-year vehicles. An owner of one such vehicle brought his car to a Georgia dealership to receive the appropriate repairs. Unfortunately, the dealership’s service technician did not perform the repair correctly, causing damage to the vehicle’s cruise-control cable.

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In a product liability case, a plaintiff attempts to hold a defendant responsible for the negligent design of a product that caused injury. But, what if the “product” is a public roadway maintained by private contractors? Can a plaintiff injured in an automobile accident caused by a defectively maintained road sue the contractor responsible for the maintenance? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question.

Brown v. Seaboard Construction Company

The plaintiff in this case was injured in a one-car accident. She was a passenger in a vehicle traveling down a causeway. The car hit a pothole filled with water, causing the vehicle to hydroplane and collide with a nearby guardrail.

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General Motors recently issued a sweeping recall for a more than 2.5 million vehicles sold between 2005 and 2011. The recall includes the Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky models. According to GM, the vehicles have a defective ignition switch that affects the operation of the airbag system.

This is not a minor safety issue. GM itself acknowledged their faulty ignition switches can be linked to at least 31 motor vehicle accidents and 13 deaths. The Detroit-based automaker now faces a number of lawsuits, including a class action complaint filed in Texas seeking upwards of $10 billion for GM customers who purchased the defective vehicles. Another lawsuit, filed in San Francisco, claims GM’s efforts to fix the recalled vehicles are “insufficient” and that there is a second ignition-switch defect the company has yet to address. Altogether, GM has been been named a defendant in at least 37 cases spanning 17 separate federal courts. In addition to litigation, multiple government agencies, including the United States Department of Justice and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have opened investigations into GM’s mismanagement.

Will GM Escape Responsibility?

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Expert testimony is often the key to winning a product liability case. If an expert witness proves inadequate, the plaintiff’s case may not survive long enough to get in front of a jury. To give a recent example, a federal judge in Savannah gutted most of a plaintiff’s case on summary judgment after determining his expert witness was unqualified and unreliable.

Grieco v. Tecumesh Products Company

The plaintiff worked as a repairman. In 2010, while making repairs to the compressor of a walk-in refrigerator, the compressor caught fire, burning the repairman’s hair, shoulder and arms. He subsequently sued the manufacturer of the compressor, alleging numerous product liability and breach of warranty claims. (Although the plaintiff’s claims are governed by Georgia state law, his case is being tried in federal court, as the manufacturer is an out-of-state corporation.)

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Is a used car dealer responsible for selling a van with defective tires? A divided Georgia Court of Appeals recently weighed in on this question, declaring that dealers are not negligent when they fail to perform a basic inspection that would show a vehicle they sold had the wrong make and size of tires. car crash.jpg

The court’s decision arose from a fatal 2008 accident involving a Chevrolet Sport passenger van. In 2006, Redding Swainsboro Ford Lincoln Mercury acquired the van as a customer trade-in. Redding then sold the van wholesale to another dealer, S&S Auto Sales. S&S in turn sold the van to a passenger transportation company. The company used the van to transport workers to a poultry processing plant. In May 2008, the driver lost control of the van when the tread belt on the left-front tire separated. The van crossed the opposing traffic lane and crashed into a tree. One of the eight passengers died and the other seven suffered serious injuries.

According to the passengers, the tire that failed was designed for a smaller passenger vehicle. The van required light truck tires. Neither the van’s current owner nor the two used car dealers that previously owned the vehicle noticed this defect.

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peanut-butter-toast1.jpgAs a father of three children who enjoy Kellogg’s frosted mini-wheats, I was quite disturbed by the voluntary product recall for the frosted and unfrosted mini-wheats original and bite size this week. Apparently, flexible metal fragments from a faulty manufacturing machine were found to be in the cereal. The products subject to recall fall under the ‘better used by dates’ of April 1, 2013 – September 21, 2013. Kellogg is working with retail grocery stores to remove the tainted boxes and fortunately, no injuries have been reported to date. For more information about the recalled cereals, please go to Kellogg’s website consumer alerts.

However, that is not the case with a recent peanut butter recall linked to Trader Joe’s Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter that contain the salmonella virus. It has been reported that 29 individuals in 18 states contracted the virus with ¾ of all the cases were children under the age of 18. Luckily, no deaths have been reported. Trader Joes Consumer Updates lists the specific products subject to recall or call (626) 599-3817 for further information.

What is a parent to do? Cereal and peanut butter are two staples in my household and part of a balanced diet. As a Georgia Trial Lawyer and informed parent, I can only hope that these recalls will reduce illness and eliminate catastrophic injuries as we try and protect the health and safety of our children.