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15 2017 Feb

Product Defect – Plaintiff’s $3M Victory Against Ford Reversed by 4th Circuit

4th Circuit Reverses $3M Jury Award in Auto Design Defect Case

On Feb. 1, 2017, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reserved a West Virginia trial court on the basis the trial court erred in admitting expert testimony about an alleged design defect specific to a 2001 Ford Ranger truck.  The plaintiff alleged that the trucks's speed control cable would malfunction and prevent the operator of the truck from slowing.   The jury awarded the Plaintiff $3M.  The District Court denied all of Ford's post-trial motions.The 4th Circuit reversed the large award and remanded the case back to the court for entry of judgment in favor of Ford Motor Co.  

For an introduction to product defect actions in South Carolina, visit our Product Defect page

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals based it's decision on the trial court's misapplication of the Fed. Rules of Evidence, Rule 702, and more specifically the Daubert standard.  In a nutshell, the 4th Circuit held that the trial court failed to consider the reliability of plaintiff's expert's design defect testimony, as the Plaintiff failed to present evidence that their expert's opinion was widely accepted in the relevant engineering community.  Plaintiff's expert also performed no tests to support his opinions.  On this basis the Court of Appeals held that the Plaintiff's expert's testimony should not have been admitted, and without any additional expert testimony to establish the truck was defectively designed, and that there were safer alternative designs available that would have been adopted by a reasonably prudent manufacturer, the Plaintiff could not prove his case under the law of West Virginia.  The case is styled Nease v. Ford Motor Co.

Please feel free to contact attorney Milt Stratos II should you have any questions or concerns regarding automotive product defect claims in South Carolina. 

30 2014 May

Product Defect News, Ford Recalling 1.4 Million Vehicles

FORD ISSUES AN ADDITIONAL RECALL OF GREATER THAN 1M VEHICLE

May 30, 2014

Dearborn, Michigan based Ford announced Thursday a recall of 1.4 million vehicles, nearly all of which are in the United States and Canada. The recall includes more than 1 million year 2008-2011 SUVs with a power steering defect, nearly 200,000 Taurus four door cars with due to an apparent corrosion issue, and 82,576 sedans with floor mats that could interfere with the accelerator.

It was reported by Reuters that the power steering issue, loss of pressure, occurred at lower speeds, and increased the risk of a crash.  Ford has acknowledged that the defect has caused 15 accidents including two that resulted in injuries.

Regarding the logistics of the recall, a Ford spokeswoman stated that "dealers will perform one of three service fixes, depending upon what diagnostic codes are shown when the vehicle is taken to the dealer.” "They will either update software for the power steering control module and the instrument cluster module; replace the torque sensor; or replace the steering column, which includes upgraded power steering control module software."

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5 2014 May

Product Defect News: Investigators Release Internal GM Memos

Product Defect News: Key GM Internal Documents Released by Congress

According to Reuters, House investigators made public nearly 250,000 pages of documents including GM emails, internal memos, and other correspondence regarding discussions within the company concerning the faulty ignition switch effecting some 2.6 million Chevrolet and GM cars this year.  The particular defective switch was causing cars to inadvertently turn off, which could lead to a loss of power steering and braking power.  At least 13 individuals are thought to have died as a result of this product defect.  

GM’s slow recall of the switch as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations failure to recognize the problem in the face of numerous consumer complaints is being investigated by the House and Senate, federal auto safety regulators, and federal prosecutors.  “Documents show individuals at GM allowed vehicles with safety concerns to remain on the road for almost a decade, resulting in at least 13 fatalities,” said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), chairman of the House subcommittee leading the probe of GM and federal regulators.  Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, maintains “there is still much left to examine and we will continue to follow the facts.”

If you or a loved one has been affected by a product defect, including a defective car, please contact a Stratos Law, South Carolina product defect lawyer.

16 2014 Apr

Auto Defects: Recalls in 2014 Heat Up

Auto Manufacturers Issuing Recalls in 2014 Setting Record Pace

Just how many vehicles on the road have an existing defect?  The current recall environment may be an indication. BMW recalled 156,000 vehicles in the US in April 2014., and 232,000 vehicles in China due to a defective bolt.  Toyota is recalling 3.5 million vehicles to replace a spiral cable attached to the driver’s side airbag.  GM has recalled 6.5 million vehicles since October of 2013.  Ford recalled nearly 350,000 Escapes on April 14, 2014 due to potential corrosion on the lower control arm.  Volkswagen, Infinity, Mazda, Chevrolet and Chrysler all issued recalls in April.

To read more about auto defects and see if your vehicle is included, you may visit the NHTA web site. 

15 2014 Apr

GM EXECUTIVES BLISTERED ON CAPITOL HILL

Lawmakers Investigate Auto Defects: GM Leading the Way

Car defects have taken front and center in 2014.  In just the beginning of the second quarter US auto manufacturer recalls are on pace to surpass the greatest annual recall number in more than a decade. Current media attention is leading to greater public awareness and increased political involvement.

This theme was on full display in April when GM executives were grilled by members of Congress during a public hearing on Capitol Hill with the purpose of investigating fatal car wrecks linked to the defective part, and allegations that preventable deaths occurred because the auto giant failed to fix what amounted to a 57-cent problem.

GM issued recalls for 2.6 million cars with the defective switch. On Monday GM recalled another 1.5 million vehicles for what is described as a defective power steering unit. Since February 2013 GM has recalled 6.3 million cars, at an estimated cost of $750,000,000.

Please contact Stratos Law, LLC if you believe you've been invovled in an accident caused by a defective product. 

9 2014 Apr

Product Defect Claim Based on Faulty Electronic Throttle Control System Keeps Wheels

Watson, et. al. vs. Ford Motor Co. Survives Motion to Dismiss

In March of 2014, Watson v. Ford Motor Co., a case filed in Federal District Court in South Carolina, survived a motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's breach of warranty claim based on the defendant's argument that the Plaintiff failed to allege an actionable injury. 

The Plaintiff's complaint alleges nationwide class claims for violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312; and statewide class claims under South Carolina law for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability; unjust enrichment; and violation of the South Carolina Regulation of Manufacturers, Distributors, and Dealers Act (the “Dealers Act”), S.C. Code Ann. §§ 56-15-10 to -600 (2006 & Supp. 2012). (ECF No. 1 at 28-34.) 

The Plaintiffs allege that between 2002 and 2010, Ford Motor Company knowingly manufactured automobiles equipped with an electronic throttle control system that rendered the automobiles susceptible to incidents of sudden unintended acceleration and, as a consequence, unsafe to customers. The Plaintiff's also allege that Ford automobiles were defectively designed and/or manufactured to the extent that they were equipped with an electronic throttle control system, but were not equipped with a brake override system or other adequate fail-safe mechanism to prevent incidents of sudden unintended acceleration.  The vehicle in question is a Mustang purchased in Columbia, South Carolina in 2012. 

Surviving a Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, “challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) A motion to dismiss should not be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) unless is appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would support her claim and would entitle her to relief. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 251 (4th Cir. 1999); Mylan Labs., Inc., 7 F.3d at 1134. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 4 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). 

Implied Warranty of Merchantability in South Carolina

South Carolina law sets forth several requirements that must be met for goods to be merchantable. See id. at § 36-2-314(2). For purposes of Plaintiffs’ claim, the only requirement relevant is that the goods, to be merchantable, “are fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used.” Id.  In the vehicle context, the implied warranty of merchantability is “a guarantee that [vehicles] will operate in a ‘safe condition’ and ‘substantially free of defects.’” Carlson v. Gen. Motors Corp., 883 F.2d 287, 297 (4th Cir. 1989). “Thus, ‘where a car can provide safe, reliable transportation [,] it is generally considered merchantable.’” Id. 

The Court's Ruling

Here, Plaintiff's assert that their claim for unmerchantability is sufficiently pled based on allegations in the complaint that the automobiles were susceptible to sudden unintended acceleration.  Ford, in response, argued that it is entitled to dismissal of the claim because Plaintiff failed to allege an actionable injury, which requires manifestation of the defect and an injury. Citing, Wilson v. Style Crest Prods, Inc. (S.C. 2006). Based on the above, the court held that it cannot conclude with certainty that Plaintiffs are unable to prove any set of facts in support of this claim entitling them to relief. Thus, the motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's claim for breach of implied warranty of merchantability was denied.  The court further denied the defendant's motion to dismiss as to the Plaintiff's remaining three claims. 

Should you have any questions regarding the issues addressed above please feel free to contact us at your convenience. 

 

 

 

25 2014 Feb

S.C. Court of Appeals Upholds Jury Verdict Against Ford Motor Co. In Product Defect Wrongful Death Suit

Appeal Court Upholds Jury Verdict In Case Involving Defective Vehicle Door Locking Mechanism

In an appeal heard in February 2014 from Bamberg County Circuit Court, the South Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a $300,000.00 jury verdict in favor of the Plaintiff, while denying the Defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and reversing a denial of seoff and a new trial nisi additur.  This wrongful death and survival action was brought by the decedent’s estate after the decedent was thrown from his 1998 Ford F-150 when his door opened during a roll over.  The trial court originally granted the Plaintiff’s motion for a new trial nisi additure, and awarded the Plaintiff an additional $600,000.00 in actual damages.  However, the Court of Appeals overturned this decision, which left the Plaintiff's family with the original jury verdict of $300,000.00. 

A discussion regarding the law of crashworthiness and it's involvement in this case will follow in a subsequent article.  Should you have any questions regarding auto product product defect please feel free to contact us. 

 

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7 2014 Feb

TOYOTA LOOKS TO SETTLE PRODUCT DEFECT CLAIMS

TOYOTA LOOKS TO SETTLE SUDDEN ACCELERATION PRODUCT DEFECT CLAIMS

According The New York Times, in December of 2013 Toyota began negotiating a settlement to compromise hundreds of state and Federal product defect claims stemming from alleged faulty electronic throttle systems. Toyota invited existing claimants to negotiate a compromise following an Okahoma plaintiff's verdict from a wrongful death product defect claim. In Toyota's first jury loss invovling the defective throttle, the claimant's wrongful death claim was successful after the jury found Toyota acted with wreckless disregard, resulting in death of one passenger and serious injury to the other after the throttle on the Camry in which they were travelling got stuck.

The last time Toyota setted a class-action was in July of 2013 for $1.6 billion – a class-action law suit brought by vehicles owners who claimed to suffer financial losses.  Today Toyota still faces hundreds of various tort and wrongful death claim based in product defect and breach of warranty.

To read more about this article you may visit The New York Times, here. If you have any questions regarding product defect claims please feel free to contact us

3 2014 Jan

SELLER OF DEFECTIVE PRODUCTS IN SOUTH CAROLINA SUBJECT TO LIABILITY

SELLERS OF DEFECTIVE PRODUCT ARE ALSO SUBJECT TO LIAIBLITY

Seller's of Defective Products are also subject to liability when an injury results from a defect. Clients and prospective clients alike often ask who they may sue in the event they are injured by a defective product.  The following discussion involves whether or not the Seller of a defective product may ultimately bare responsibility.

As with most states, product defect law is governed by relatively recent state legislation, as well as ever changing precedence.  In South Carolina, when an individual is injured by a defective product they are not limited to suing just the manufacturer. While the facts and circumstances differ in every case, generally it may be said that a seller of a defective product may be liable to the injured end-user where the below statutory guide is satisfied.  South Carolina Code Ann § 15-73-10 governs the liability of a seller of a defective product.  

SELLERS OF DEFECTIVE PRODUCTS

SECTION 15-73-10. Liability of seller for defective product.

(1) One who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm caused to the ultimate user or consumer, or to his property, if

(a) The seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product, and (b) It is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it is sold.

(2) The rule stated in subsection (1) shall apply although

(a) The seller has exercised all possible care in the preparation and sale of his product, and (b) The user or consumer has not bought the product from or entered into any contractual relation with the seller.

A key feature of this legislation cuts of liability of the seller.  Under SC Code § 15-73-20, recovery is barred, “[I]f the user or consumer discovers the defect and is aware of the danger, and nevertheless proceeds unreasonably to make use of the product and is injured by it, he is barred from recovery.  

The Court in Anderson v. Green Bull, Inc. elaborates on this bar while evaluating a failure to warn claim in a 1996 decision by saying "[A] product cannot be deemed either defective or unreasonably dangerous if a danger associated with the product is one that the product's users generally recognize."  This case was quoted in a South Carolina Supreme Court opinion, which was filed yesterday, 1/3/2014.  See, Holland v. Morbark, Opinion Number 5186.

Should you have any questions or comments regarding liability of a seller in a product defect claim you are welcome to contact us at your convenience. 

30 2013 Dec

SOUTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF STACKING UNDERINSURED COVERAGE DESPITE POLICY EXCLUSION

SOUTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF STACKING UNDERINSURED COVERAGE DESPITE POLICY EXCLUSION 

CARTER V. STANDARD FIRE INSURANCE CO., Opinion No. 27340.

Filed, December 11, 2013,

The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld an Appellate Court ruling in favor of Plaintiff Michael Carter, where Mr. Carter was seeking relief from summary judgment in a case involving the stacking of UIM coverage from his parent’s existing insurance policy. The Defendants, Standard Fire Insurance, claimed Carter was ineligible to stack coverage because the policy explicitly excluded coverage.  There was no dispute as to whether Mr. Carter was a Class I insured.

This case stems from a violent car accident, which resulted in the death of the driver and paralysis of the passenger Michael Carter, who also owned the vehicle operated by the driver. The driver’s estate settled a wrongful death claim against Allstate, and Allstate settled with Carter for the sum of the two UIM policies Carter carried on the vehicle.  Suit was filed after Standard Fire Insurance refused to allow Carter to “stack” coverage from his parents existing policies in which he was a Class I insured.

Under South Carolina law, all Class I insured’s – those named in the policy, their spouses and resident relatives – are entitled to stack coverage from multiple UIM policies until all damages are satisfied. UIM coverage is “personal and portable” under the law, which means that it follows the insured rather than the vehicle.  The amount an insured is permitted to stack is limited to the amount of UIM carried on the particular vehicle involved in the incident, or the “measuring vehicle.”  (That is to say, an insured with $50,000.00 of UIM coverage may reach out to other insurance policies, where she is a class one insured, but she may only recover up to $50,000.00, the amount of coverage on the measuring vehicle.)

Under the facts of this case, the Defendant insurer included an exclusionary clause in the insurance policy which purported to limit stacking for injuries sustained “While ‘occupying’” another vehicle owned by the insured or a family member, and not insured under the policy.  In essence, the Insurer was attempting to limit the “portability” of UIM coverage, and in doing so limit one’s ability to stack UIM coverage if she is involved in an accident in a car not covered by the actual policy in dispute.  As the court pointed out, doing so would be in conflict to existing state law governing underinsured insurance.  For this reason, the court found the exclusion void, and held in favor of the Plaintiff.

Please feel free to contact us should you have any questions regarding insurance or portability of UIM coverage in South Carolina.