Articles Posted in Dangerous Products

Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case dealing with the admissibility of expert testimony in a product liability lawsuit. Ultimately, the court concluded that since the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony was not admissible, she was unable to prove her failure-to-warn claim. The court then rejected the plaintiff’s defective design case based on the fact that the manufacturer’s warnings were found to be sufficient.

WaverunnerThe case is important for Virginia boat accident victims because it illustrates the importance of expert witness testimony in establishing liability.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when she fell off the back of a personal watercraft (PWC). At the time of her injuries, the plaintiff was riding as the fourth passenger on the machine, was wearing only a bikini, and had consumed alcohol prior to boarding the watercraft. It was undisputed that the plaintiff was not in compliance with the warnings contained on the machine, but the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit, claiming that the warnings were defective.

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A Virginia appellate court recently issued a written opinion in a Virginia product liability case discussing a plaintiff’s burden in establishing a defective design claim. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s claim was insufficient as a matter of law, and it dismissed the case.

ForkliftThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff worked at a factory. He was trained on a folder-gluing machine, and to earn some extra money, he cross-trained on another vehicle that was similar to a forklift. While the plaintiff completed some of the training to operate the forklift, he did not obtain certification to use the vehicle.

One day, the factory was especially busy, and the plaintiff’s supervisor asked him to operate the forklift. The plaintiff agreed and began unloading boxes of paper from a trailer. In order to do this, the plaintiff had to drive the forklift up a ramp and into the trailer. During one of the trips, the forklift got caught between the ramp and the trailer.

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When a consumer purchases a product, they expect not only that the product will function as it is supposed to function, but also that it will be safe and free from potentially harmful or dangerous defects. However, history has shown that not all products are safely designed or manufactured, and sometimes a product will be damaged in transit, making it unreasonably dangerous even when used for its intended purpose. In these situations, anyone who is injured as a result of the use of the product may be able to purse a claim for compensation through a Virginia product liability claim.

LoveseatIn Virginia, there are several types of product liability claims that can be brought against a number of parties. For example, a claim may be brought based on the defective design of a product, the negligent manufacturing of a product, or a company’s failure to warn the consumer about a known defect. As a general rule, a Virginia product liability claim can be brought against any person or business in the product’s chain of commerce, from the manufacturer to the retailer.

A recent case illustrates the trend toward holding all actors in the chain of commerce responsible for the safety of a product.

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When someone is injured while using any kind of product, they may be able to seek compensation for their injuries through a product liability lawsuit filed against the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer of the product. In many cases, these lawsuits do not require that a plaintiff establish that the named defendants knew about the alleged defect; however, additional damages may be available if a plaintiff is able to prove that the defendant knew about the defect and failed to correct it.

Disc BrakesOne key issue in many product liability cases is the availability and admissibility of “other similar incident” evidence, or OSI evidence. OSI evidence is important for product liability plaintiffs to understand, and it can be very persuasive because it may show that a defendant manufacturer should have known about the alleged defect, based on the other reported incidents. However, courts are careful about admitting OSI evidence because it may complicate matters for the jury and can result in undue prejudice. A recent case illustrates how plaintiffs in a recent car accident case were able to admit OSI evidence.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were stopped at a red light on a highway off-ramp when they were rear-ended by another motorist who was driving a 1996 Toyota Camry. The Camry was traveling at approximately 75 miles per hour when it rear-ended the plaintiffs. Two of the five plaintiffs in the vehicle were killed as a result of the accident, one sustained a traumatic brain injury, one was left a paraplegic, and the final plaintiff suffered a broken leg.

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Virginia courts apply the doctrine of contributory negligence when determining which parties will be able to seek damages following an accident. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, an accident victim’s negligence can completely bar their ability to receive compensation for their injuries. This is even the case if the plaintiff is just 5% responsible for the accident.

Old Pick-UpWhether an accident victim is considered “at fault” is usually a matter for the jury to determine. However, a recent case out of South Carolina held that a plaintiff’s potential negligence is not relevant to cases claiming that a vehicle was not safely designed to withstand the force of an accident.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a passenger in a Chevy Pick-up truck being driven by a friend. The two had been smoking synthetic marijuana and were driving on the highway when the driver ran a stop sign. As the pick-up truck entered the intersection, it was struck by another vehicle that had the right-of-way.

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Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a product liability lawsuit brought against tire manufacturing giant Goodyear. While the Supreme Court’s decision reversed a $2.7 million fine assessed by the lower court, the Court ordered the lower court to recalculate the figure.

TireThe Pre-Trial Discovery Process

After a lawsuit is filed, but before the case is heard by a jury, the parties go through the discovery process, in which each side exchanges documents, witness lists, and other potential evidence. As a general rule, a party must disclose all requested relevant evidence to opposing counsel, even if that evidence may be detrimental to the party’s case. A party’s failure to comply with a discovery request may result in sanctions imposed by the court.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs owned a motor home that was equipped with Goodyear tires. While the plaintiffs were driving the motor home on the highway, a tire blew out, sending the motor home off the road. The motor home flipped over, and several plaintiffs on board were injured. The plaintiffs filed a product liability claim against Goodyear, arguing that the tire was defective because it was not designed to operate at highway speeds.

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Earlier last month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case, originally arising out of Illinois, claiming that the manufacturer of the “Goof Off” brand cleaner should be liable for injuries a consumer sustained while using the product. In the case, Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Co., the appellate court allowed several of the plaintiff’s claims to continue toward trial, finding that the plaintiff presented enough evidence for a jury to potentially find in his favor.

BasementThe Facts of the Case

Suarez was using “Goof Off” brand cleaner to clean his basement floor. Suarez read the label and followed the instructions. One of the steps listed on the product’s label instructed those intending to use the product to clean floors to spread the product across the floor with a broom. Suarez used a broom to spread the cleaner across the floor in his basement, but as he was doing so, the cleaner caught fire. Suarez was seriously injured in the fire and filed this product liability lawsuit, seeking compensation for his injuries.

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Earlier this month, a federal court of appeals issued an opinion in a product liability case involving an employee who was injured while on the job by a piece of falling scaffolding. In the case, Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding, the court had to decide what to do with the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant intentionally lost or destroyed the very piece of scaffolding that caused his injuries. Ultimately, the court upheld the plaintiff’s right to seek compensation for his injuries by holding that the lower court applied an improper standard when dismissing the plaintiff’s case.

ScaffoldingThe Facts

Schaefer was employed by Brand Energy, a construction company. Brand Energy was contracted by Dynery to complete work on a power plant. Universal Scaffolding manufactured the scaffolding that Brand Energy used on the job, but Dynergy purchased the scaffolding. Employees of Brand had difficulty assembling the scaffolding because it kept coming apart at the joints. Schaefer was walking below some of the scaffolding when he was struck on the head by a piece that had come loose. He filed a product liability claim against Universal Scaffolding, as well as related claims against Brand Energy and Dynergy. Relevant to this discussion is Schaefer’s claim against Universal Scaffolding.

Before trial, Universal Scaffolding told Schaefer and his attorneys that they no longer had the piece of scaffolding that had fallen and allegedly caused his injuries. Schaefer asked the court to impose sanctions against Universal Scaffolding for failing to preserve the material and relevant evidence. However, the trial court determined that, although Schaefer could not succeed without the evidence, he did not show that he would have succeeded at trial with the evidence, and the case was dismissed.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an interesting opinion in a product liability case involving a plaintiff’s claim against an auto maker that the soft-top convertible she was operating during a rollover accident failed to protect her from injury. The case, Holiday Motor Corporation v. Walters, was ultimately decided in favor of the defendant auto maker because the court determined that there was no legal duty to create a soft-top convertible that was capable of withstanding the force of a rollover accident.

Convertible CarThe Facts of the Case

Walters, the plaintiff, was driving her 1995 Mazda Miata. The car was a soft-top convertible. She was driving it on a two-lane highway behind a pick-up truck when she noticed a large object fall off the back of the truck. She swerved to avoid hitting the object and ended up rolling the vehicle.

When the car came to a stop, it was upside down and partially leaning against a tree. The roof of the convertible had caved in, and as a result Walters sustained serious back and neck injuries. She filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the vehicle. The argument she made was that the auto maker’s failure to manufacture the soft-top so that it would protect the occupants of the vehicle was a breach of the implied warranty of merchantability.

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Proving a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of a dangerous product is not always as easy as explaining how a product caused an injury. For example, depending on the type of claim being asserted, a plaintiff may need to present actual evidence that the product was defective, was poorly designed, or presented an unreasonable risk of injury. In fact, all personal injury cases have certain elements that must be proven. If a party fails to provide evidence tending to prove each of the elements of their claim, the judge must dismiss the case upon the defendant’s motion. This is exactly what happened to one family’s product liability case against a smoke detector manufacturer.

House on FireHosford v. BRK Brands, Inc.

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a young girl who died when her family’s mobile home caught fire. According to the court’s written opinion, the girl’s parents had installed two of the defendant’s smoke detectors in the mobile home. On the night of the tragedy, an electrical malfunction started a slow smoldering fire in the mobile home. The girl’s parents awoke to one of the smoke detectors, but the fire had already overtaken the home, and it was too late for them to save their daughter.

The family filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the smoke detectors. The plaintiffs made several claims, the most relevant of which claimed that the smoke alarms were defective at detecting the slow smoldering fire and did not go off with enough time to allow them to safely evacuate their home. After a trial, the jury determined that the manufacturer was not liable, and the plaintiff appealed.

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