Articles Posted in product liability

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Car accidents may have many causes. Oftentimes it is simply negligence on the part of the driver. There may also be a defect in the vehicle itself, either as the result of a faulty part used during the manufacturing process or an inadequate repair. If there was, in fact, a problem with the car, the driver may not be liable for any damages sustained by third parties.

Almassur v. Mezquital

On March 15, the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned a $30 million jury verdict in a personal injury lawsuit arising from a 2012 car accident in Forsyth County. The appellate court said the trial judge committed a significant error in refusing to allow a jury instruction proposed by the defense. That instruction, in turn, addressed whether the defendant driver’s actions on the day of the accident were “unknowing and unintentional.”

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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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Expert testimony is often crucial to product liability cases in Georgia. After all, most people, notably those who serve on a civil jury, lack the technical knowledge of how a given product or manufacturing process works. That is why experts are employed by plaintiffs to establish causation.

Under Georgia law, a trial judge has the discretion to allow expert testimony if three conditions are met:

  • There are “sufficient facts or data” in the record to support the expert’s opinions;
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Many single-car accidents are the result of a defective part. If that is the case, the driver may have a personal injury claim under Georgia product liability law. Specifically, O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11 states that a court may order a manufacturer to pay damages to any person “who suffers injury to his person or property” as the result of merchandise that “was not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended.”

Phillips v. Owners Insurance Company

Given that product liability cases are highly fact-specific and by their very nature revolve around a particular item, it is critical to preserve any and all physical evidence from a car accident. It may take several months or years to fully investigate the cause of the accident and the potential liability of the numerous manufacturers involved. When evidence is lost or destroyed, it can adversely affect a victim’s case.

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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.

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Dangerous and defective products injure thousands of Americans every year. Children and teenagers are especially vulnerable to poorly designed or manufactured products. Every parent’s worst nightmare is finding his or her child seriously and permanently injured due to a manufacturer’s reckless or negligent acts.

Ballinger v. Top Swords LLC

Last November there were news reports about a Kentucky teenager injured in a “freak accident” at his home. These early reports only said that the victim, a high school sophomore, “was injured when a piece of metal entered [his] forehead, causing trauma.” In fact, the trauma was so severe that the victim was in a coma for six weeks.

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Many Georgia car accidents are the result of a defect in the vehicle itself. Georgia product liability law recognizes three types of defects: manufacturing defects, design defects, and warning defects. The second group, design defects, includes any product that is not “reasonably suited to the use intended.” This means, for instance, that a product manufacturer may be held liable for damages if it selected an inappropriate or unsafe design.

Andrews v. Autoliv Japan, Ltd.

A design defect claim will only succeed if the plaintiff can prove the defendant actively participated in the design. Not every party who may have contributed some part of a vehicle is considered responsible for its design. A recent decision by a federal judge in Atlanta offers a helpful illustration.

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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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A company may be held liable under Georgia law for any defects in the design or manufacture of its products. Similarly, a manufacturer may be responsible if it fails to properly label or warn consumers about the known risks of using a product. Defective design and failure-to-warn claims are distinct categories of product liability, and there are cases in which a manufacturer may be liable for one and not the other.

CertainTeed Corporation v. Fletcher

Along those lines, the Supreme Court of Georgia recently held that a manufacturer of asbestos-containing products could be tried on a defective design claim, while simultaneously rejecting a failure-to-warn claim made by the same plaintiff.