Virginia Court Rejects Product Liability Case Based on Plaintiff’s Failure to Establish Defective Design

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.

Legal News GavelThe 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.

The plaintiff engaged the brake and, with a colleague, wrapped a chain around the forklift in an attempt to get it free. However, as the plaintiff was behind the forklift, the brake failed, and the machine rolled backwards, crushing him. He died from the injuries he sustained. It was later established that the brake was in need of regular maintenance at the time it failed.

The man’s widow then filed a wrongful death claim against the manufacturer of the forklift under a product liability theory. Specifically, the widow claimed that the brake was defectively designed in that it was adjustable by the operator. The widow claimed that a safer design would be a brake that only a mechanic can adjust.

The Court’s Analysis

The court began its analysis by noting that in Virginia deign defect claims, the plaintiff is required to present a safer design that would have been a reasonable alternative to the design chosen by the manufacturer. Here, as noted above, the employee’s widow suggested a brake that was not adjustable by the operator would be safer because a forklift operator likely would not have the skills necessary to make the adjustments or replace the brake.

The court, however, disagreed. The court explained that there was a reasonable basis for the manufacturer’s decision to use an operator-adjustable brake because a forklift with a brake that could only be adjusted by a mechanic would require the machine be taken out of service for a longer period of time. Given the realities of a busy factory environment and the pressure to be constantly meeting production goals, the court agreed that such a brake may result in necessary maintenance being put off for extended periods of time. Thus, while the court agreed that the plaintiff’s proposed design may have prevented this specific accident, the design was not likely to be safer overall.

Have You Been Injured Due to a Dangerous Product?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to a dangerous or defective product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Virginia product liability lawsuit. Attorney Charles B. Roberts is a dedicated Virginia personal injury lawyer with decades of experience representing Virginia victims in all types of claims, including product liability cases. He works closely with all of his clients to ensure that they are kept well informed about their cases throughout the process. Call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Roberts today.

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