Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Domingue, et al. v. Ford Motor Company
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified questions of law to the Georgia Supreme Court, all involving OCGA § 40-8-76.1 (d), the “seatbelt statute.” The federal court asked whether the statute precluded a defendant in an action alleging defective restraint system design and/or negligent restraint system manufacture from producing evidence related to: (1) The existence of seatbelts in a vehicle as part of the vehicle’s passenger restraint system; or (2) Evidence related to the seatbelt’s design and compliance with applicable federal safety standards; or (3) An occupant’s nonuse of a seatbelt as part of their defense. The Supreme Court concluded OCGA § 40-8-76.1 (d) did not preclude a defendant in an action alleging defective restraint-system design or negligent restraint-system manufacture from producing evidence related to the existence of seatbelts in a vehicle as part of the vehicle’s passenger restraint system. Furthermore, the Court concluded the statute did not preclude such defendants from producing evidence related to the seatbelt’s design and compliance with applicable federal safety standards. Finally, the Court concluded OCGA § 40 -8-76.1 (d) precluded consideration of the failure of an occupant of a motor vehicle to wear a seatbelt for the purposes set forth in subsection (d), even as part of a defendant-manufacturer’s defense. View "Domingue, et al. v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law
General Motors, LLC v. Buchanan, et al.
In this wrongful death case in which the plaintiffs alleged a faulty vehicle component caused the deadly accident, plaintiffs sought to depose the Chief Executive Officer of General Motors, LLC, and General Motors has sought a protective order barring that deposition. General Motors urged the Georgia Supreme Court to adopt the so-called “apex doctrine” as a means of determining whether “good cause” existed for granting the protective order the company sought. The Supreme Court granted General Motors’ petition for a writ of certiorari to consider “what factors should be considered by a trial court in ruling on a motion for a protective order under OCGA 9-11-26 (c) that seeks to prevent the deposition of a high-ranking officer” and “the appropriate burden of proof as to those factors.” The Supreme Court concluded that, to the extent these factors were asserted by a party seeking a protective order, a trial court should consider whether the executive’s high rank, the executive’s lack of unique personal knowledge of relevant facts, and the availability of information from other sources demonstrate good cause for a protective order under OCGA 9-11-26 (c). However, the Court declined to hold that a trial court had to find that good cause was presumptively or conclusively established in each instance that a movant has demonstrated that an executive was “sufficiently high-ranking” and lacked unique personal knowledge of discoverable information not available through other means. Applying that standard here, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not fully consider all of the reasons asserted by General Motors as a basis for the protective order it sought in the motion. Thus, the Court vacated the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s order, and remanded this case with direction that the Court of Appeals vacate the trial court’s order and remand the case for reconsideration. View "General Motors, LLC v. Buchanan, et al." on Justia Law
Maynard, et al. v. Snapchat, Inc.
While driving over 100 miles per hour, Christal McGee rear-ended a car driven by Wentworth Maynard, causing him to suffer severe injuries. When the collision occurred, McGee was using a “Speed Filter” feature within Snapchat, a mobile phone application, to record her real-life speed on a photo or video that she could then share with other Snapchat users. Wentworth and his wife, Karen Maynard, sued McGee and Snapchat, Inc. (“Snap”), alleging that Snap negligently designed Snapchat’s Speed Filter. The trial court dismissed the design-defect claim against Snap, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Snap did not owe a legal duty to the Maynards because a manufacturer’s duty to design reasonably safe products does not extend to people injured by a third party’s intentional and tortious misuse of the manufacturer’s product. On certiorari, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred: "a manufacturer has a duty under our decisional law to use reasonable care in selecting from alternative designs to reduce reasonably foreseeable risks of harm posed by its products. When a particular risk of harm from a product is not reasonably foreseeable, a manufacturer owes no design duty to reduce that risk. How a product was being used (e.g., intentionally, negligently, properly, improperly, or not at all) and who was using it (the plaintiff or a third party) when an injury occurred are relevant considerations in determining whether a manufacturer could reasonably foresee a particular risk of harm from its product. Nevertheless, our decisional law does not recognize a blanket exception to a manufacturer’s design duty in all cases of intentional or tortious third-party use." Because the holding of the Court of Appeals conflicted with these principles, and because the Maynards adequately alleged Snap could have reasonably foreseen the particular risk of harm from the Speed Filter at issue here, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Maynard, et al. v. Snapchat, Inc." on Justia Law
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. McCall
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to reconsider one of its holdings in Allstate Insurance Co. v. Klein, 422 SE2d 863 (1992). In Klein, the Court held that Georgia courts could exercise general personal jurisdiction over any out-of-state corporation that was “authorized to do or transact business in this state at the time a claim arises.” Although Klein’s general-jurisdiction holding was in tension with a recent line of United States Supreme Court cases addressing when state courts may exercise general personal jurisdiction over out-of-state corporations in a manner that accords with the due process requirements of the United States Constitution, the Georgia Court held Klein did not violate federal due process under Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Co. of Philadelphia v. Gold Issue Mining & Milling Co., 243 U. S. 93 (1917), a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court has not overruled. "Thus, we are not required to overrule Klein as a matter of binding federal constitutional law. We also decline to overrule Klein as a matter of statutory interpretation. Therefore, we affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision, which followed Klein." View "Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. McCall" on Justia Law
Johns, et al. v. Suzuki Motor of America, Inc., et al.
Adrien Johns was seriously injured in August 2013 when the front brake on his Suzuki motorcycle failed suddenly. He sued the designer and manufacturer of the motorcycle, Suzuki Motor Corporation, and its wholly-owned subsidiary and American distributor, Suzuki Motor of America, Inc. (collectively, “Suzuki”), asserting a claim of strict products liability based on a design defect and two negligence claims (breach of a continuing duty to warn and negligent recall). Adrien’s wife, Gwen Johns, also sued Suzuki, alleging loss of consortium. At trial, the Johnses presented evidence showing that the brake failure of Adrien’s motorcycle was caused by a defect in the design of the front master brake cylinder that created a corrosive condition, which resulted in a “leak path” that misdirected the flow of brake fluid and caused the total brake failure. About two months after Adrien’s accident, Suzuki issued a recall notice warning about a safety defect in the front brake master cylinder. Suzuki had notice of the issue, including reports of similar accidents, for a significant amount of time before Adrien’s accident. Adrien admitted, that contrary to the instructions in the owner’s manual to replace the brake fluid every two years, he had not changed the fluid during the eight years he had owned the motorcycle. The jury found in favor of the Johnses on all claims. Because the damages after apportionment were less than the Johnses’ pretrial demand of $10 million, the trial court rejected the Johnses’ request for pre-judgment interest under OCGA 51-12-14 (a). The Johnses cross-appealed, arguing that because their claim was based on strict products liability, the trial court erred in reducing the damages awards based on OCGA 51-12-33 (a), and therefore also erred in failing to award them pre-judgment interest. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to decide whether OCGA 51-12-33 (a) applied to a strict products liability claim under OCGA 51-1-11. The Court of Appeals held that strict products liability claims were subject to such apportionment. To this, the Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Johns, et al. v. Suzuki Motor of America, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Patterson v. Kevon, LLC
Joshua and Taylor Patterson became ill after eating food at a wedding rehearsal dinner prepared, catered, and served by Big Kev’s Barbeque. The Pattersons brought this action for negligence, violation of the Georgia Food Act (OCGA 26-2-20 et seq.), and products liability, alleging that the food at the dinner was defective, pathogen-contaminated, undercooked, and negligently prepared. After limited discovery, Big Kev’s moved for summary judgment, asserting that the Pattersons “are unable to show that their alleged food poisoning was proximately caused by Defendant.” The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether summary judgment for the defendant was properly granted. The Court of Appeals was “sharply” divided, yet granted summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause. The Supreme Court found that the standard that has developed over the years in the Court of Appeals has conflated cases at both the trial and summary judgment stages, thus creating the mistaken impression that food poisoning cases “are a unique species of negligence cases” imposing a heavier burden upon the plaintiff to show proximate cause than that generally required of nonmovants on summary judgment. “The appropriate legal standard on summary judgment, correctly applied to the facts of this case, shows that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause.” View "Patterson v. Kevon, LLC" on Justia Law
Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden
In 2012, Bryan Harrell was driving his pickup truck at more than 50 miles per hour when he rear-ended the 1999 Jeep in which four-year-old Remington Walden was a rear-seat passenger, with his aunt behind the wheel. The impact left Harrell and Remington’s aunt unhurt, but fractured Remington’s femur. The impact also caused the Jeep’s rear-mounted gas tank to rupture and catch fire. Remington burned to death trying to escape; he lived for up to a minute as he burned, and witnesses heard him screaming. Remington’s parents (“Appellees”) sued both Chrysler and Harrell for wrongful death. At trial, in March and April of 2015, Appellees challenged the Jeep’s vehicle design, arguing that Chrysler should not have used a rear-mounted fuel tank. When questioning Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Mark Chernoby at trial, Appellees’ counsel asked about the CEO’s salary, bonus, and benefits; Marchionne himself was never questioned about his income and benefits. The trial court overruled Chrysler’s repeated relevance and wealth-of-a-party objections to this line of questioning. Appellees’ counsel referenced Marchionne’s compensation testimony again in closing, arguing, “what [Chrysler’s counsel] said Remi’s life was worth, Marchionne made 43 times as much in one year.” The jury determined that Chrysler acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life and failed to warn of the hazard that killed Remington. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeal discussed admission of CEO compensation, holding “evidence of a witness’s relationship to a party is always admissible” and that the CEO’s compensation “made the existence of [the CEO’s] bias in favor of Chrysler more probable.” The Georgia Supreme Court held not that compensation evidence is always admissible to show the bias of an employee witness, or that it is never admissible, but that such evidence is subject to the Rule 403 analysis weighing the evidence’s unfair prejudice against its probative value. Because Chrysler did not raise a Rule 403 objection to the compensation evidence at issue in this appeal, the Supreme Court considered the question not under the ordinary abuse-of-discretion standard, but as a question of plain error. The Court concluded that under the particular circumstances of this case, it could not say that the prejudicial effect of the evidence so far outweighed its probative value that its admission was clear and obvious reversible error. Accordingly, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the rationale of the Court of Appeals, it ultimately affirmed its judgment. View "Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden" on Justia Law
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Koch
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals in the preceding case, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company v. Koch, 793 SE2d 564 (2016), properly articulated the legal standard for when a plaintiff’s duty to preserve evidence begins and properly applied that standard to the facts of this case. Like a defendant’s duty, a plaintiff’s duty to preserve relevant evidence in her control arises when that party actually anticipates or reasonably should anticipate litigation. Because the Court of Appeals appropriately identified and applied this standard, as did the trial court, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Koch" on Justia Law
CertainTeed Corp. v. Fletcher
Appellee Marcella Fletcher was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, which she attributed to years of laundering her father’s asbestos-dust-covered work clothing, and she sued Appellant CertainTeed Corporation, who manufactured the asbestos-laden water pipes with which her father had worked. In her complaint, she alleged, inter alia, negligent design and negligent failure to warn. Before the completion of discovery, the trial court granted CertainTeed’s motion for summary judgment, and Fletcher appealed. A majority of the Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment, concluding that CertainTeed had failed to demonstrate, as a matter of law, the absence of evidence that its product was defectively designed. The Court of Appeals also found that a jury question existed as to whether CertainTeed had a duty to warn Fletcher of the risks associated with inhaling asbestos dust. After its review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that CertainTeed owed no duty to warn Fletcher of the possible hazards of asbestos-dust from its products, but that the Court of Appeals correctly reversed the trial court’s judgment with respect to Fletcher’s defective design claim. View "CertainTeed Corp. v. Fletcher" on Justia Law