Articles Posted in Product Defects

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Earlier this month, a federal court of appeals heard an appeal from a product liability case involving an allegedly defective door-knob guard. In the case, Coterel v. Dorel Juvenile Group, the plaintiffs were the parents of a boy who successfully disengaged the door-knob guard manufactured by the defendants and was later found dead in a pond. At issue in the appeal was the trial court’s admission of evidence indicating that the young boy had previously disengaged the mechanism and that the deadbolt to the front door was not locked on the day in question.

Door HandleEvidentiary Rulings in Personal Injury Cases

Courts are governed by certain sets of rules when it comes to which evidence can be admitted at trial. Not all evidence is relevant, and not all relevant evidence is admissible for a variety of reasons. In the Coterel case, the parents of the young boy objected to the admission of the evidence that would show the jury that their son had successfully negotiated the door-knob guard in the past and that the parents had forgotten to lock the front deadbolt.

The trial court determined that the evidence was proper and allowed it to be considered by the jury. After the trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the court’s alleged error in allowing the evidence to be considered by the jury warranted a new trial.

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The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided to overturn the ruling of a federal district court judge in a negligence and product liability lawsuit filed against a gun manufacturer. The plaintiff in the case of Seamon v. Remington Arms Company was the widow of a man who was killed by a firearm while out deer hunting alone. The Court of Appeals ruled that the district court was mistaken to exclude the plaintiff’s proposed expert witness, who would testify that the gun had a design flaw that caused it to fire on its own and cause the man’s death.

to-be-a-target-1306531As the Hunter Lowered the Gun From a Hunting Stand, it Discharged on its Own

In November 2011, the plaintiff’s husband was hunting for deer in rural Alabama when he failed to return home. Family members searched for the man and eventually found him dead in his tree stand with a single bullet wound in his chest. Information from the most recent ruling revealed that the firearm was attached to a rope and had been at least five feet away from the man when it discharged because there was no gunpowder residue on the man’s body, which would usually be present in the event of a suicide or accidental discharge.

The decedent’s wife filed a lawsuit against the arms manufacturer in federal district court, and she offered the testimony of an expert witness who would testify that a specific manufacturing defect in the design of the trigger mechanism of the Remington Model 700 rifle that fired the shot that killed the man caused the gun to fire on its own while he was lowering the weapon from the tree stand. The expert noted that the defendants themselves have known that the Model 700 has fired unexpectedly “a number of times” in the past.

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Sign reading Smoking Area

Baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Although Berra was talking about sports, the expression is equally true in the law. Procedural matters and other legal finagling can complicate a case to the point where it appears to be finished before it is even tried, but an appellate court may disagree and send the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Similarly, a large jury verdict may make it may seem that one party has surely prevailed over the other, but a higher court may set the verdict aside months or even years later. Ultimately, it is up to the appellate courts to decide, once and for all, when “it’s over.”

In the recent case of Phillip Morris U.S.A., Inc. v. Skolnick, a Florida appellate court determined that, despite legal proceedings dating back to at least 2002, a widow’s attempt at redress for her husband’s death was not over.

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Ladders for siding work

Most lawsuits settle out of court. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main incentives for a settlement is so that the parties can put the matter behind them and move on with their lives. It’s no secret that jury trials can lead to appeals and that appeals can delay a resolution to the issues for months or maybe even years.

In the case of Coba v. Tricam Industries, Inc., the state’s highest court was called upon to determine whether a trial court and an intermediate appellate court had properly addressed a jury’s allegedly inconsistent verdict in a product liability lawsuit brought by the personal representative of a man who fell to his death from a 13-foot aluminum ladder. The woman’s complaint against the defendants, the manufacturer and seller of the ladder, alleged both strict product liability and negligence.

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cigaretteCivil lawsuits involving personal injuries are subject to a time limit, or “statute of limitations,” for filing. This time period usually begins to run on the date that a person is injured or killed due to the negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct of another person or a business. Some actions are also subject to a “statute of repose,” which may place additional time restrictions on the filing of a lawsuit. The applicability of the statute of repose for fraud was at issue in the recent case of Hess v. Philip Morris USA, Inc.

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bikeDefective products are everywhere. It seems like there is a new recall announcement concerning a car, truck, or SUV every week. It’s enough to make one consider alternative transportation. Unfortunately, those other forms of transportation – particularly bicycles with carbon fiber forks – may not be safe either.

In the case of Trek Bicycle Corporation v. Miguelez, the plaintiff was a man who had an accident on the Rickenbacker causeway while riding his newly purchased Trek road bike on the shoulder of the road. According to the plaintiff, the bike stopped abruptly, causing him to fall and hurt his face, jaw, and shoulder. After looking at the bike, it was the plaintiff’s belief that an object had ended up caught in the rotating spokes of the front wheel, then hit the front carbon fiber forks’ back sides; this caused the wheel to stop rotating. The object then hit the front forks, cracking them and causing them to buckle and the bike to collapse.

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360px-ColdCatHeaterComfort.jpgThe Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants in a products liability claim. The product in question, a propane-fired portable heater, allegedly caused the plaintiff’s house to catch fire when she used it indoors. At issue was whether the warnings included with the product were legally sufficient to notify plaintiff of the dangers of indoor use of the heater, particularly since the warnings were written in English in a largely-Spanish-speaking area of Miami. The district court, in granting summary judgment for the defendants, held that the warning met Florida’s standard for accuracy and clarity, despite any language barriers.

Plaintiff Lilybet Farias, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Cuba who primarily speaks Spanish, purchased two “propane gas-fired infra-red portable heaters” from Home Depot. She claimed that she used the heaters inside her house, not knowing of the danger of fire because she could not read the English-language instructions. On the night of February 9, 2009, she reportedly left a heater on and failed to close a valve on a gas tank. Her home caught fire that night. She claimed the damages equalled around $300,000. She sued the manufacturers of the heater, Enerco Group, Inc. and Mr. Heater, Inc., as well as Home Depot, in state court in Miami-Dade County on November 17, 2009. She alleged negligence and strict liability for failing to warn of a product defect against the three defendants.

The defendants removed the case to federal court that December based on diversity jurisdiction. Farias is a resident of Florida, while both Enerco and Mr. Heater have principal places of business in Ohio. Home Depot is a Delaware corporation. The U.S. District Court in Miami granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on November 19, 2010, finding that her claims of inadequate warning were barred as a matter of law.

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308201_7286.jpgA federal judge in Miami has dismissed multiple claims without prejudice in a putative class action lawsuit against two football helmet manufacturers. The claim was filed by a father who purchased the defendants’ helmets for his two sons, both of whom are high school football players. Concern over injuries to youth in sports, particularly traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, has led to closer scrutiny of athletic equipment and more claims for damages when equipment malfunctions or defects cause injuries to players.

Most lawsuits rely on the legal theory of products liability, which holds the manufacturer or distributor of a faulty or defective product liable for damages caused by the product. In this case, the plaintiff pleaded breaches of contract and warranty, as well as violations of consumer protection statutes. The court found that he did not plead his claims with sufficient substance, but gave him until July 20 to amend the complaint.

Frank Enriquez filed suit against Easton-Bell Sports, Inc. (EBSI) and Riddell, Inc. in February 2012 over the line of football helmets known as Revolution Helmets. He states in his amended complaint that the defendants marketed the helmets as offering greater protection against concussions in young players, claiming a thirty-one percent reduction in the likelihood of concussion in athletes that used Revolution Helmets.

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As a Fort Lauderdale car crash attorney, I have followed reports on unintended acceleration in Toyota cars with great interest. Auto industry watchers may remember that Toyota had to recall millions of cars after a series of investigations showed certain Toyota vehicles were accelerating without a clear cause, causing serious and sometimes fatal crashes. The automaker blamed incorrect floor mats and later “sticky” gas pedals, but some believe the real problem is with the car’ electronic throttle systems, also known as “drive by wire,” and with the lack of an override. Toyota is fighting numerous lawsuits from individuals who claim they were hurt in unintended acceleration crashes. Now, the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 3, insurance companies have piled on with lawsuits seeking to recover money they paid to insureds involved in sudden acceleration crashes.

Altogether, seven insurers filed lawsuits Dec. 30 in Los Angeles Superior Court. They say certain Toyota vehicles have defects causing unintended acceleration, causing at least 725 crashes among their customers. The companies claim Toyota should have included an override feature that stops acceleration when the brake and gas are pressed simultaneously. The claims follow a similar lawsuit filed three months ago by a lone insurer, Allstate. All of the insurer lawsuits seek reimbursement for the money they paid in insurance claims to drivers involved in such crashes. Toyota consistently denies that defects in electronic throttles have caused any crashes. Its recalls for unintended acceleration problems focused first on problems with floor mats blamed for trapping gas pedals, then on “sticking” gas pedals themselves. Federal investigators have blamed some, but not all, of the accidents on human error as well.

As a Miami Gardens auto accident lawyer, I think it’s a good thing for individuals that insurance companies are getting involved. Drivers and accident victims won’t benefit directly if the insurers’ claims succeed — but just the fact that the lawsuits were filed shows insurers believe the claim can succeed. That vote of confidence bodes well for the claims made by the individuals, which are mostly based on the same facts and legal theories. As the Times reported, federal records show Toyota discussed the possibility of an override system as early as 2007, two years before the first reports of unintended acceleration arrived. However, the company didn’t start installing the systems until 2010 — and the technology has existed since the early 1990s. That failure to act could be perceived by juries as placing financial concerns over safety.

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As a Davie product defect attorney, I have kept an eye on the Toyota recall. Last year, the automaker announced the largest recall in its history, of 4.3 million vehicles implicated in multiple reports of sudden and unintentional acceleration. In that recall, Toyota said improperly positioned floor mats were causing accelerator pedals to stick open, sometimes causing panicked drivers to launch into walls or over cliffs. The defect has caused at least 19 deaths, including the August death of an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer trained in vehicle safety and three members of his family. Now, the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 23, Toyota is recalling 2.3 million more vehicles, saying a mechanical problem is causing the pedal to stick.

The new recall is raising eyebrows, the Times wrote, because Toyota had previously denied any problems other than the floor mat problem. The automaker didn’t explicitly say it no longer believed this, but most of the vehicles involved in the new recall are the same vehicles in the floor mat recall. Some safety experts quoted by the newspaper said they believe the real problem is actually Toyota’s “drive by wire” system, which controls acceleration through an onboard computer rather than mechanical parts. Toyota says the pedal can stick down when it gets worn. It doesn’t have a solution to the pedal problem yet, but has asked drivers who encounter the problem to apply the brakes and call a dealer immediately. Experts also suggest that drivers deal with unintended acceleration by turning off the car or shifting into neutral. Drivers can find more information from Toyota here and a list of vehicles involved in both recalls here.

According to the article, Toyota rejected the computer-bug theory when investigating an incident that led to the most recent recall. This recall is probably still good for drivers, but it disturbs me as a West Palm Beach defective product lawyer that Toyota didn’t investigate the idea that its drive-by-wire system could be the real culprit. In fact, it was basically forced to concede the pedal problem after a sudden-acceleration incident that seemed unrelated to floor mat problems. Mechanical parts are much cheaper to fix than computer systems — but if computers are the problem, that hardly matters. If the expert quoted in the newspaper is right, Toyota’s failure to face the problem will continue to put people at risk until it’s impossible for the automaker to ignore it — putting more lives in danger.

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