Earlier this month, an appellate court in Virginia issued a written opinion in a product liability case that ended up reversing a jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff. In the case, Holiday Motor Corp. v. Walters, the court set aside the jury’s verdict because the car manufacturer did not have a duty to customers to manufacture a soft-top convertible that could safely withstand a rollover crash.
Walters was the owner of a 1995 Mazda Miata soft-top convertible. Back in 2006, Walters was driving the Miata on a two-lane road with the soft-top in the closed position when she saw a large object fall off the back of a pick-up truck. To avoid colliding with the large object, she veered to the left across the opposite lane of traffic and up a grassy embankment on the side of the road. As the vehicle left the road, it rolled over and ended up leaning against a tree.
A passerby stopped to offer assistance. He testified at trial that the windshield was flat against the ground, but the rear end of the car was slightly elevated. Walters ended up suffering a serious cervical spine injury and sued Mazda based on a product liability theory. Specifically, Walter argued that Mazda violated the implied warranty of merchantability in that the design of the vehicle’s soft-top was unreasonably dangerous in failing to protect against rollover crashes.