Does Georgia Law Require Manufacturers to Warn Third Parties About Dangerous Products?

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.”

More recently, a federal judge in Atlanta rejected a failure to warn claim raised by the victim in a car accident. The plaintiff here was driving her own car down a road in Nebraska when she collided with a General Motors truck that had “spun out of control and crossed the median,” according to court records. The collision crushed the GM truck’s gas tank, which caused an explosion that severely burned the plaintiff.

The plaintiff sued GM under Georgia law, alleging a defect in the truck’s design created an unreasonable risk that the gas tank would explode. Furthermore, she alleged that GM knew of this risk before it started marketing this model of truck more than 40 years ago, and it therefore had a duty to warn third parties such as herself of the danger. GM moved to dismiss this portion of the plaintiff’s complaint.

The judge granted GM’s motion in a January 9 order. Largely relying on the Georgia Supreme Court’s 2016 decision, the judge in this case said the “same reasoning applies” to defeat the plaintiff’s theory of liability. The judge noted there are thousands of GM pickup trucks currently in service and “there are countless individuals who could foreseeably come into contact with” them. It would therefore be “impractical, if not impossible” for GM to warn all of these third parties. As a matter of “public policy,” the courts could not extend failure-to-warn liability in this manner.

The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that GM failed in its duty to warn the owner of the truck itself, and this was the “proximate cause” of the plaintiff’s burn injuries. As the judge explained, the Georgia Supreme Court considered and rejected a similar argument in the Certainteed litigation.

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