Appellate Court Affirms Jury’s Verdict in Product Liability Case against Auto Manufacturer

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Nevada issued a written opinion in a product liability case that will be of interest to anyone who is considering filing a Maryland product liability lawsuit. The case required the court to consider the defendant auto manufacturer’s argument that the risk-utility test should be adopted over the consumer-expectations test, which had long been the prevailing test for product liability claims. Ultimately, the court rejected the auto manufacturer’s request to adopt the risk-utility test and affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

Maryland courts apply the consumer-expectations test when evaluating a product liability lawsuit. This test requires courts to put themselves in the position of a consumer, asking whether the product at issue performed as expected under the circumstances. Some other jurisdictions apply the risk-utility test, which asks whether there is a reasonably safe alternative design that the manufacturer could have used rather than the design that was actually used. Under this test, it is the plaintiff’s burden to establish that the reasonable alternative exists.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving an SUV manufactured by the defendant, with her husband riding as the front-seat passenger. As the plaintiff attempted a lane change, the trailer she was towing began to fishtail, and the SUV flipped over, rolling several times. When the vehicle came to a stop, it was resting on its roof. The plaintiff was able to slip out of the window, but her husband was crushed. The plaintiff filed this product liability lawsuit against the auto manufacturer, claiming that the SUV’s roof was not sufficiently tested and was defectively designed.

The case proceeded to trial, where the consumer-expectations test was applied. The jury returned a verdict of $4.5 million in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant appealed, arguing that the court should adopt the risk-utility test and reevaluate the plaintiff’s case.

The court declined the defendant’s invitation to adopt the risk-utility test. The court explained that the consumer-expectations test best fits with the theory of strict liability in product liability cases. Additionally, the court noted that the defendant in a product liability case is always free to argue that the cost of making a safer design that would comply with the consumer-expectations test was not economically feasible.

In the end, the court was concerned that the risk-utility test shifted the burden onto the plaintiff to establish that a reasonably safe alternative exists, finding that such a burden shift is contrary to principles of strict liability. As a result, the court affirmed the jury’s $4.5 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland single-vehicle car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, the manufacturer of your vehicle or the manufacturer of a component part may be liable. The skilled Maryland product liability attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have extensive experience bringing all types of product liability claims against the manufacturers of dangerous and poorly designed products. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with a Maryland personal injury attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff’s Car Accident Case Nearly Dismissed for Failure to Name Proper Party, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published October 10, 2017.

Court Allows Plaintiff’s Recovery Against At-Fault Motorist’s Insurance Company Despite Subsequent Bankruptcy Filing, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published October 3, 2017.

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