Articles Posted in Products Liability

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Comparative negligence does not apply in crashworthiness cases, and that South Carolina's public policy does not bar a plaintiff, allegedly intoxicated at the time of the accident, from bringing a crashworthiness claim against the vehicle manufacturer. This case concerned the applicability of comparative negligence to strict liability and breach of warranty claims in a crashworthiness case brought by Plaintiff Reid Donze against Defendant General Motors ("GM"). The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified two questions to the South Carolina Supreme Court Court addressing the defenses available to a manufacturer in crashworthiness cases brought under strict liability and breach of warranty theories. View "Donze v. General Motors" on Justia Law

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Defendant Carus Corp. (Carus) was an international company that developed and sold chemical products for municipal and industrial applications. Defendant's products included a chemical called Totalox, which essentially, was designed as a deodorizer for sewer systems. The Town of Lexington (Town) used Totalox in its sewer treatment plants. In 2010, Plaintiff John Machin, a Town employee, was exposed to Totalox when a storage container valve broke during the delivery of Totalox to one of the Town's wastewater stations. Plaintiff suffered reactive airways syndrome, which was also known as chemically induced asthma or obstructive lung disease. As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim and was awarded workers' compensation benefits. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted four certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: (1) Under South Carolina law, when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the jury hear an explanation of why the employer is not part of the instant action?; (2) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may a defendant argue the empty chair defense and suggest that Plaintiff's employer is the wrongdoer?; (3) In connection with Question 2, if a defendant retains the right to argue the empty chair defense against Plaintiff's employer, may a court instruct the jury that an employer's legal responsibility has been determined by another forum, specifically, the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission?; and (4) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the Court allow the jury to apportion fault against the nonparty employer by placing the name of the employer on the verdict form? The South Carolina Supreme Court answered these questions in the abstract, without any suggestion as to the resolution of the post-trial motion before the federal court: Questions 1, 2, and 3 "yes," provided a defense seeks to assign fault to the plaintiff's employer. The Court answered Question 4, "no." View "Machin v. Carus Corporation" on Justia Law

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The underlying dispute in this case involved the repair of faulty windows and sliding glass doors in a condominium development, Shipyard Village Horizontal Property Regime (Shipyard Village), in Pawleys Island. Fifty co-owners of units in Buildings C & D of the development (Petitioners) appealed the court of appeals' decision to reverse the trial court's finding that the business judgment rule did not apply to the conduct of the Board of Directors of the Shipyard Village Council of Co-Owners, Inc., and the trial court's decision granting Petitioners partial summary judgment on the issue of breach of the Board's duty to investigate. Finding no reversible erro, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' decision. View "Fisher v. Shipyard Village" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the packaging and labeling of sodium bromate, a chemical which contributed to a fire that occurred in a plant owned by Engelhard Corporation in June 2004. At the time of the fire, Scott Lawing worked at Engelhard's Seneca plant as a maintenance mechanic. Engelhard produced a precious metal catalyst used in the automobile industry, and refined metals from recycled materials. In this products liability action, Trinity Manufacturing, Inc. and Matrix Outsourcing, LLC argued that the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment to them on a strict liability cause of action. In their cross-appeal, Scott and Tammy Lawing asked the Supreme Court to reverse the court of appeals' decision affirming the trial court's decision to charge the jury on the "sophisticated user" defense. After review, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals. The Court found the appellate court erred in setting forth its broad definition of "user," and affirmed as modified the court of appeals' decision on this issue. Furthermore, the Court concluded the appellate court erred in affirming the trial court's decision to charge the sophisticated user defense to the jury. The appellate court did not err, however, in reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Trinity and Matrix on the Lawings' strict liability claim. The Supreme Court found that the evidence in this case did not support the sophisticated user defense, so the trial court erred in charging the defense to the jury. The case was remanded for a new trial on the Lawings' negligence and implied warranty of merchantability claims. View "Lawing v. Univar" on Justia Law

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This products liability action arose following the death of Benjamin Riley, who was killed in a motor vehicle accident involving a negligently designed door-latch system in his 1998 Ford F-150 pickup truck. Petitioner Laura Riley, as the Personal Representative of the Estate, filed suit against Respondent Ford Motor Company and the at-fault driver, Andrew Marshall Carter, II. Carter settled with the Estate for $25,000, with $20,000 allocated to the survival claim and $5,000 allocated to the wrongful death claim. Petitioner and Ford proceeded to trial on the wrongful death claim. The jury returned a verdict for Petitioner in the amount of $300,000. The trial court granted a nisi additur of $600,000, bringing the judgment to $900,000. Ford appealed. The court of appeals upheld the finding of liability but reversed the trial court as to nisi additur, as well as the allocation and setoff of settlement proceeds. On appeal, Petitioner argued the court of appeals departed from well-established law concerning nisi additur and that the court of appeals erred in modifying the negotiated, court-approved settlement allocation and in finding Ford was entitled to offset the amount of $20,000. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and reinstated the judgment of the trial court. View "Riley v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner 5 Star, Inc. is a lawn maintenance and pressure washing company owned by Stan Shelby. In February 2005, 5 Star purchased a used 1996 Ford F-250 pickup truck. Several months later, Shelby parked the truck for the weekend in 5 Star's North Charleston warehouse. Two days later, Shelby returned to the warehouse and discovered that a fire had occurred. The truck was destroyed, and the warehouse was severely damaged. The Chief Fire Investigator for the North Charleston Fire Department, performed an investigation and observed that the truck was located in the middle of the warehouse, where the most extensive damage occurred. The Chief noted the engine compartment of the truck was the likely origin of the fire. 5 Star filed a products liability action against Ford Motor Co. for negligent design of the speed control deactivation switch (deactivation switch), seeking actual and punitive damages. The court of appeals reversed a jury verdict awarding $41,000 in actual damages in a negligent design products liability action based on the failure of the trial court to grant a directed verdict. The trial court qualified petitioner-expert Leonard Greene as an expert in electrical engineering and fire origin and cause. The court of appeals, however, found that Greene was not "qualified as an expert in automotive design or any other area of expertise that would enable [him] to offer opinions as to whether Ford's conduct was negligent." 5 Star claimed that the court of appeals erred and that Greene's extensive qualifications in electrical engineering related to automobiles were sufficient to enable him to testify regarding Ford's exercise of due care. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "5 Star v. Ford Motor" on Justia Law

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This case returns to the Supreme Court on remand from the United States Supreme Court (USSC) for reconsideration in light of its decision in "Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc.," (131 S.Ct. 1311 (2011)). In the South Carolina Court's previous decision, it concluded Appellant's state-law products liability claims against Ford Motor Company were preempted by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard ("FMVSS") 205. The Court reaffirmed its previous decision. Appellant filed a products liability claim against Respondent Ford Motor Company premised on the allegation that its 1997 Ford F-150 pick-up truck was defective and unreasonably dangerous because it did not incorporate laminated glass in the vehicle's side and rear windows. In connection with implied conflict preemption, "Williamson" revisited the Supreme Court's decision in "Geier v. American Honda Motor Co.," (529 U.S. 861 (2000)). "We construe the key language in Williamson to hold that manufacturer choice among alternatives operates to preempt a state law claim only where the state law stands as an obstacle to a significant federal regulatory objective. Similarly, our previous decision was not based upon the notion that the mere presence of manufacturer choices in FMVSS 205 preempted Appellant's state tort suit. We adhere to the view that the manifest purpose of the federal regulatory scheme underlying FMVSS 205 would be frustrated if these state claims were allowed to proceed. Assuming implied conflict preemption remains a viable part of preemption, we believe it applies here to preclude Appellant's state law claims." View "Priester v. Cromer" on Justia Law

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India Graves, a six-month-old girl, died while being monitored by one of CAS Medical Systems' products. India's parents, Kareem and Tara Graves, subsequently filed a products liability lawsuit against CAS, contending the monitor was defectively designed and failed to alert them when India's heart rate and breathing slowed. The circuit court granted CAS's motion to exclude all of the Graves' expert witnesses and accordingly granted CAS summary judgment. The Graves appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony of the Graves' computer experts. While the court did err in excluding one doctor's testimony, the Graves were still left with no expert opinions regarding any defects in the monitor. In the absence of this evidence, CAS was entitled to summary judgment. Accordingly the Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Graves v. CAS Medical Systems" on Justia Law