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.

ConvertibleThe Facts of the Case

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.

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In a recent case in front of a state appellate court, a jury’s verdict in favor of a manufacturer of an allegedly defective smoke detector was affirmed, leaving the plaintiffs with no means of recourse. In the case, Hosford v. BRK Brands, the plaintiffs’ allegations were all based on various product liability themes, but since the plaintiffs failed to present the necessary evidence at trial and on appeal, the case was lost.

Smoke AlarmThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a nine-year-old girl who perished when the family’s mobile home caught fire. Several of the family members were in one room when the fire started. The young girl was in a separate room. After a slow, smoldering fire started as a result of an electrical malfunction, two of the alarms that had been installed in the mobile home went off, alerting the family. Since the fire had already started to spread by the time the alarm went off, the family was not able to rescue the nine-year-old girl.

The surviving family members filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the smoke detector, arguing that the detector’s technology was insufficient to give early warnings of slow, smoldering fires rather than a faster, hotter fire. There were several related claims filed by the plaintiffs, all making various arguments under a product liability theory, such as failure to warn, defective design, negligence, and breach of warranty.

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Earlier this summer, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a land surveyor was not liable for injuries suffered by a man who tripped and fell on a wooden stake used to mark the property’s boundaries. The stake was tied with a ribbon and stood approximately one foot above the ground. The stake, which was one of four marking the property, was visible to the naked eye.

Surveying ToolsIn ruling for the defendant, the court found that land surveyors are “professionals” and thus subject to professional negligence laws, which require that professionals perform their services with reasonable care. However, the court also found that the surveyor in this case did not owe the plaintiff a duty to act with reasonable care, since the surveyor was hired by a third party, rather than the plaintiff. The plaintiff owned the property in question, but the surveyor was hired by the prospective buyers of the property, who wanted to know the property’s exact boundaries prior to the purchase.

A Professional’s Duties in Maryland

In Maryland, individuals and companies hired to perform professional services also owe their customers a duty of reasonable care. Professionals who are required to meet this standard include architects, engineers, lawyers, dentists, and doctors, to name a few.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Idaho heard a medical malpractice appeal brought by the husband of a woman who had died from a serious infection she developed after being treated by the defendant doctor. In the case of Ballard v. Kerr, the court ultimately dismissed the defendant’s appeal and upheld the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff for approximately $3.75 million.

Hospital RoomThe Facts of the Case

Ms. Ballard went to the defendant’s cosmetic clinic for a procedure that would remove fat from her stomach and deposit it in her buttocks. Prior to her procedure, she consulted with the defendant, who explained that she would be a good candidate for the procedure. However, shortly after the procedure, Ms. Ballard began experiencing “immense pain” in her buttocks. Initially, the defendant doctor did not see any signs of infection, but he provided Ms. Ballard with antibiotics just in case.

A few days later, she awoke in the middle of the night, asked her husband to call 911, and was hospitalized. She was only in the hospital a short time before her respiratory and renal systems began failing. She was placed on life support but died a short time later.

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Different types of personal injury cases have different procedural requirements. For example, medical malpractice cases in most jurisdictions require that the plaintiff provide some affidavit or other expert opinion explaining that the plaintiff’s case has merit in the expert’s opinion. Medical malpractice cases also often have shorter statutes of limitations than other cases brought under a theory of negligence. If a plaintiff fails to comply with these requirements, the case may be thrown out by the court before reaching trial.

ParamedicA recent case in front of a California appellate court shows, however, that not every negligence case involving a medical professional should be subject to the heightened medical malpractice requirements.

Aldana v. Stillwagon:  The Facts

Aldana was involved in a serious accident when she was struck by Stillwagon, who was an on-duty paramedic on his way to the scene of an accident. Aldana then filed a lawsuit against Stillwagon under a theory of negligence, claiming that Stillwater’s negligence in operating his vehicle resulted in her injuries.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Idaho issued an opinion in a medical malpractice case that illustrates how strictly courts construe statutes of limitations in medical malpractice cases. In the case, English v. Taylor, the court determined that the plaintiffs’ amended complaint, rather than the motion for leave to amend the original complaint, was what “commenced” the case. Since this filing of the amended complaint was past the allowable time under the statute of limitations, the case was dismissed as untimely.

CalendarThe Facts of the Case

Mrs. English suffered a stroke while undergoing surgery at the defendant’s facility. A little less than two years after her stroke, the Englishes filed a strict product liability case against the manufacturer of one of the medical devices involved in the surgery. At this time, neither the medical facility nor the doctor was named in the lawsuit.

One day before the two-year statute of limitations was set to expire, the Englishes asked a medical review panel to review the performance of the doctor who conducted the surgery. This effectively paused the time from running under the statute of limitations and added 30 days after the review was complete to the allowable time to file. During those 30 days, the Englishes filed a motion asking the judge to allow them to add the doctor and the medical facility as additional parties. That motion was granted.

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Under a product liability theory, manufacturers can be held liable for dangerous products that they release into the stream of commerce. However, not only can manufacturers be held liable, but also retailers and distributors may be held liable under certain circumstances. When a court considers a product liability case, there are several factors that may come into play, as was evidenced by a recent case in front of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

LawnmowerParks v. Ariens:  The Facts

Parks was fatally injured when the riding lawnmower he was operating rolled while Parks was negotiating a sloped surface. Parks’ wife then filed a product liability case against the dealer who had sold her husband the lawnmower, arguing that the dealer was negligent in failing to supply the mower with a roll cage and seatbelt.

The defendant answered the claim by explaining that it was not his duty to supply the roll cage and seatbelt. Indeed, the defendant presented evidence that it was his normal practice to ask customers if they want to purchase the roll cage and seatbelt as optional equipment at an additional cost. While there was no documentation that Parks turned down this offer, the dealer explained that it was his normal practice to explain this to his customers, and he could not recall anything different occurring in this case.

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Over the course of the last few years, General Motors has recalled over 26 million vehicles, spanning over 55 models. This series of recalls, the largest in U.S. history, covers all but three of GM’s main vehicle models. Many of the vehicles that were recalled had serious problems with the ignition switch. Indeed, it is difficult to gauge exactly how many deaths have been caused by the ignition switch problem, but by most estimates the number is well over 100.

Car KeysWhat makes this recall extraordinary is not just the volume of vehicles recalled but also the fact that there is evidence suggesting GM knew about the dangers of the ignition switches but failed to do anything. This has led to a series of personal injury cases that, according to GM’s own estimates, will cost the company about $2.5 billion. It cost the company so much, in fact, that GM actually entered a form of bankruptcy.

According to a recent news article covering the bankruptcy, under an appellate court’s decision, accident victims’ claims against the “new” GM may be viable despite GM’s assertion that the claims dissolved along with the “old” GM. The court had to decide several important questions of law, just one of which was:  what happens to the claims filed by all those people who were injured by faulty ignition switches? Should those claims be dismissed because the corporation that manufactured the vehicle is technically no longer in existence? Or should the claims be able to be asserted against the new GM corporation?

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Michigan decided an interesting case involving the type of evidence that is sufficient to survive a summary judgment challenge by the defense in a slip-and-fall case arising from an allegedly uneven sidewalk. In the case, Bernardoni v. City of Saginaw, the court held that photos taken 30 days after the woman’s injuries were insufficient to prove the dangerous condition of the sidewalk on the day of her injury.

Sidewalk

The Facts of the Case

Ms. Bernardoni was walking on the sidewalk in Saginaw, Michigan when she tripped and fell. Upon inspecting the sidewalk when she got up, she noticed that there was a 2.5-inch differential in the height between two adjacent slabs on concrete, creating the “lip” on which she had tripped. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the local government, seeking monetary compensation.

In response, the government asked the court to dismiss the case based on the immunity it possesses under state law. Specifically, the government pointed to the state statute that requires anyone suing based on a dangerous sidewalk to prove that the government knew of the dangerous condition for at least 30 days prior to the accident.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court in California affirmed a lower court’s decision in a product liability case involving an allegedly defective door-knob guard that the plaintiffs claimed was responsible for their young son’s death. In the case, Coterel v. Dorel Juvenile Group, the court determined that even if the plaintiffs were correct, and the challenged evidence should not have been submitted to the jury, the effect of including the evidence had only a speculative effect, and reversal was not therefore required.

Open DoorThe Facts of the Case

The defendant manufactured a door-knob cover marketed to parents of young children who are tall enough to reach door knobs but may not know better than to open the door and walk out of the house. On the day in question, the plaintiffs placed the defendant’s door-knob cover on the front door of their home and placed their young son in bed in his crib. Evidently, the young boy escaped his crib, approached the front door, negotiated the door knob cover, and then walked out the front door of the house. Tragically, the boy was later found dead in a pond.

The parents of the boy filed a product liability case against the manufacturer of the cover, alleging that the product was defective. At trial, the defendant presented evidence that the parents knew their son had been able to negotiate the cover, and they had installed a chain lock on the door as well. However, on the day in question, the plaintiffs failed to use the chain lock.

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