Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Ex parte Continental Motors, Inc.
Numerous plaintiffs filed a wrongful death action under section 6-5-410, Ala. Code 1975, against Continental Motors, Inc. ("CMI"), and RAM Aircraft, LP ("RAM"), among others, on behalf of the heirs of Mark Goldstein, Marjorie Gonzalez, and Luis Angel Lopez Barillas (collectively, "the decedents"). On March 10, 2010, the decedents died in an airplane crash in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The crash was allegedly a result of a defective starter-adapter assembly that had been manufactured by CMI and/or the failure of the airplane's engine, which had been refurbished by RAM. Mark and Marjorie were citizens and residents of Honduras; Luis was a citizen and resident of Guatemala. The administration of each of the decedents' estates was conducted in their respective countries of citizenship and residence. CMI and RAM filed motions for a summary judgment arguing that none of the plaintiffs was a personal representative of the decedents and, thus, that plaintiffs lacked the authority to pursue the wrongful-death claims. The circuit court denied CMI's and RAM's summary-judgment motions. CMI and RAM separately petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to set aside its orders denying their summary judgment motions and to enter an order granting their summary judgment motions, thereby dismissing the plaintiffs' wrongful death action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Alabama Court granted CMI's and RAM's petitions in part and denied them in part. The Court concluded CMI and RAM failed to demonstrate the administrator-plaintiffs were without authority to pursue a wrongful-death claim on behalf of Mark's heirs. Therefore, in this regard, the Supreme Court denied CMI's and RAM's petitions for a writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court also concluded CMI and RAM demonstrated that none of the plaintiffs were personal representatives of Marjorie's or Luis's estate and, thus, lacked authority to pursue a wrongful-death claim on behalf of Marjorie's or Luis's heirs. Accordingly, the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the wrongful-death claims brought on behalf of Marjorie's and Luis's heirs, and CMI and RAM were entitled to have their summary-judgment motions granted in that respect and to have those claims dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Therefore, in this regard, the Supreme Court granted CMI's and RAM's petitions for a writ of mandamus and ordered the circuit court to grant CMI's and RAM's summary-judgment motions, and dismissed the wrongful-death claims asserted by the heirs of Marjorie and Luis. View "Ex parte Continental Motors, Inc." on Justia Law
Nissan North America, Inc. v. Scott
Adrienne Scott purchased from Jack Ingram Motors, Inc. ("Jack Ingram"), a new 2015 Nissan Juke automobile, which had been manufactured by Nissan. Scott took the vehicle to Jack Ingram after smelling fuel in the interior of the vehicle. Jack Ingram did not detect the smell; it inspected the fuel system of the vehicle, and found no leaks in the fuel system. Two days later, while Scott was driving the vehicle, it spontaneously caught fire. Scott sued Jack Ingram and Nissan, raising a number of claims stemming from the fire. Jack Ingram moved to compel arbitration of the claims filed against it based on the arbitration agreement Scott had signed in connection with the sale of the vehicle. Scott filed a response indicating that, although she was willing to arbitrate her breach-of-warranty and negligence claims against Jack Ingram, she objected to litigating part of the case, i.e., her claims against Nissan. Scott She indicated in her response that she was willing to arbitrate the case or to litigate the case, but she objected to having to do both. The trial court entered an order holding that, "in the interest of judicial economy," the entire matter should be arbitrated. Nissan filed a motion to reconsider, which the trial court denied. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion by compelling Nissan to arbitrate the claims asserted against it by Scott. The trial court's order was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Nissan North America, Inc. v. Scott" on Justia Law
Mazda Motor Corporation v. Hurst
Mazda Motor Corporation ("Mazda") appealed a judgment entered against it on two jury verdicts resulting from two product liability claims filed in Alabama. The claims stemmed from an accident involving a “Mazda 3” driven by then 16-year-old Sydney McLemore, with 15-year-old Natalie Hurst as a passenger. McLemore was driving 55 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone when she lost control of the car; the car spun around and hit a light pole before coming to a stop, then burst into flames. McLemore suffered third-degree burns covering approximately 15 percent of her body; Hurst died from burn injuries. Hurst’s parents filed suit against Mazda and McLemore, asserting wrongful death, and pertinent here, product liability claims. Specifically, they alleged that Mazda erred by designing the 2008 Mazda 3 so that a plastic fuel tank was positioned one-half inch from a steel muffler that had sharp protruding edges so that when hit, the muffler's sharp edge cut the fuel tank, causing the fuel tank to fail and allowing gasoline vapors to escape and to ignite, which caused the post-collision fuel-fed fire. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record that the trial court did not err with respect to the admission of certain expert testimony. McLemore’s wantonness claim should not have been submitted to the jury, and the judgment must be reversed insofar as it included an award based on that claim. The record did not support an award of punitive damages in connection with McLemore’s claim against Mazda. Further, Mazda has failed to present any argument that would counsel in favor of a remittitur of the Hursts' damages award on their wrongful-death claim, and, therefore, the jury's $3.9 million award in favor of the Hursts and against Mazda. The trial court was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Mazda Motor Corporation v. Hurst" on Justia Law
Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd.
On June 24, 2007, Florian Hinrichs was riding in the front passenger seat of a 2004 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck owned and operated by his friend Daniel Vinson when they were involved in a motor-vehicle accident. It was undisputed that Hinrichs was wearing his seat belt. A vehicle operated by Kenneth Smith, who was driving under the influence of alcohol, ran a stop sign and collided with the passenger-side door of the Sierra. The Sierra rolled over twice, but landed on its wheels. Hinrichs suffered a spinal cord injury in the accident that left him a quadriplegic. The accident occurred in Geneva County, Alabama. Hinrichs alleged that his injuries were caused by the defective design of the roof of the Sierra that allowed the roof over the passenger compartment to collapse during the rollover and by the defective design of the seat belt in the Sierra, which failed to restrain him. At the time of the accident, Hinrichs, a German citizen, was a member of the German military; he had been assigned to Fort Rucker for flight training. He and Vinson were in the same training program. Vinson had purchased the Sierra at Hill Buick, Inc., d/b/a O'Reilly Pontiac-Buick-GMC and/or Hill Pontiac-Buick-GMC ("the O'Reilly dealership"), in Pennsylvania in 2003. He drove it to Alabama in 2006 when he was assigned to Fort Rucker. General Motors Corporation, known as Motors Liquidation Company after July 9, 2009 ("GM"), designed the Sierra. GM Canada, whose principal place of business was in Ontario, Canada, manufactured certain parts of the Sierra, assembled the vehicle, and sold it to GM in Canada, where title transferred. GM then distributed the Sierra for sale in the United States through a GM dealer. The Sierra ultimately was delivered to the O'Reilly dealership for sale. Hinrichs, appealed the trial court's decision to dismiss General Motors of Canada, Ltd. ("GM Canada"), from the case. Finding that the trial court correctly concluded that it had neither general nor specific jurisdiction over GM Canada, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd." on Justia Law
Hosford v. BRK Brands, Inc.
Consolidated appeals arose from the death of four-year-old Nevaeh Johnson in a fire that destroyed her family's mobile home in May 2011. Following Nevaeh's death, Nevaeh's mother, Latosha Hosford; Latosha's husband, Chad Barley ("Barley"); and Nevaeh's grandmother, Rhonda Hosford ("Hosford"), sued multiple parties, of note, BRK Brands, Inc. ("BRK"), the manufacturer of two smoke alarms in the mobile home at the time of the fire. The plaintiffs alleged that BRK was responsible for Nevaeh's death inasmuch as a BRK-manufactured ionization smoke alarm allegedly did not respond to smoke caused by the fire and sound an alarm in time to allow Nevaeh to escape. In appeal no. 1140899, Latosha appealed the judgment as a matter of law entered on her failure-to-warn, negligence, and wantonness claims, as well as a judgment entered on the jury's verdict following the trial of her products-liability claim brought under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("AEMLD"). In appeal no. 1140901, Latosha and Hosford, as co-administratrixes of Nevaeh's estate, appealed the judgment as a matter of law entered on their breach-of-warranty claim seeking compensatory damages on behalf of Nevaeh for pain and mental anguish she allegedly suffered before her death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that with respect to Latosha's AEMLD claim, she did not submit evidence identifying a safer, practical, alternative design that BRK could have used for the ionization smoke alarms purchased by Barley for use in the mobile home; accordingly, BRK was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on that claim. Inasmuch as Latosha and Hosford conceded that the Supreme Court need not consider any of the other judgments entered by the trial court if the judgment entered on the AEMLD claim was affirmed, the Court affirmed those other judgments. View "Hosford v. BRK Brands, Inc." on Justia Law
Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd.
Plaintiff Florian Hinrichs was riding in the front passenger seat of a 2004 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck that was owned and operated by his friend Daniel Vinson when they were involved in a motor-vehicle accident. Kenneth Smith was driving under the influence of alcohol and ran a stop sign, colliding with the passenger-side door of the Sierra. The Sierra rolled over twice, but landed on its wheels. Hinrichs suffered a spinal cord injury in the accident that left him a quadriplegic. The accident occurred in Geneva County. Hinrichs alleged that his injuries were caused by the defective design of the roof of the Sierra that allowed the roof over the passenger compartment to collapse during the rollover and by the defective design of the seat belt in the Sierra, which failed to restrain him. At the time of the accident, Hinrichs, a German citizen, was a member of the German military; he had been assigned to Fort Rucker for flight training. He and Vinson were in the same training program. Vinson had purchased the Sierra at Hill Buick, Inc., d/b/a O'Reilly Pontiac-Buick-GMC and/or Hill Pontiac-Buick-GMC in Pennsylvania in 2003. He drove it to Alabama in 2006 when he was assigned to Fort Rucker. General Motors Corporation, known as Motors Liquidation Company after July 9, 2009 ("GM"), designed the Sierra. GM Canada, whose principal place of business was in Ontario, Canada, manufactured certain parts of the Sierra, assembled the vehicle, and sold it to GM in Canada, where title transferred. GM then distributed the Sierra for sale in the United States through a GM dealer. The Sierra ultimately was delivered to the O'Reilly dealership for sale. Finding that the trial court properly concluded it lacked general nor specific jurisdiction over GM Canada, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of GM Canada from this case. View "Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd." on Justia Law
Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. Burden
Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. ("Jim Bishop"), appealed judgment entered on jury verdicts in favor of Michael and Tina Burden ("Burden"). In 2012, the Burdens sued General Motors, LLC, Jim Bishop, and Lynn Layton Chevrolet, Inc. ("Lynn Layton"), to recover damages for injuries they allegedly sustained as the result of a fire that occurred in a truck they had purchased from an automobile dealership owned and operated by Jim Bishop. When Jim Bishop filed its answer, also generally denying the allegations contained in the complaint and asserting certain affirmative defenses, Jim Bishop further asserted a cross-claim against General Motors alleging it had refused to indemnify Jim Bishop. The Burdens eventually entered into pro tanto settlements with General Motors, which agreed to pay them $20,000, and Lynn Layton, which agreed to pay them $32,000, as to the respective claims asserted by the Burdens against those defendants. The settlement with General Motors resolved the breach-of-warranty claims and the "Magnuson-Moss" claim. The trial court dismissed the Burdens' claims against both General Motors and Lynn Layton pursuant to joint stipulations of dismissal filed by those parties. Jim Bishop moved the trial court for a summary judgment on the Burdens' remaining claims against it, moved at the close of evidence for a judgment as a matter of law, and renewed its JML motion post-verdict. All three were denied, and the jury returned its verdict against Jim Bishop. Based on its review of the facts entered into the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in failing to grant Jim Bishop's motion for a JML and in submitting the case to the jury. Therefore, it reversed the judgment entered in favor of the Burdens on the jury's verdicts and rendered a judgment for Jim Bishop. View "Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. Burden" on Justia Law