Court Refuses to Consider Driver’s Negligence When Hearing “Crashworthiness” Case

Earlier this month, an appellate court in South Carolina issued an interesting opinion in a case brought by a man who was injured when he was involved in an accident while driving a GM vehicle. The case required the court to determine if a plaintiff’s own negligence in causing their injuries is relevant when the plaintiff files a product liability claim against the vehicle’s manufacturer. Ultimately, the court concluded that a plaintiff’s own potential negligence is not relevant to the inquiry and should not be considered.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a passenger in a 1987 Chevy Pick-up truck that was being driven by a friend. The evidence presented at trial suggested that the two had smoked synthetic marijuana earlier in the day. At one point, the driver of the pick-up failed to stop at a stop sign, and the vehicle was struck by another truck towing a horse trailer. The pick-up truck burst into flames after the collision. The driver of the vehicle died, and the plaintiff was seriously injured.

The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against GM, the manufacturer of the pick-up truck, arguing that the placement of the gas tank caused the fire. Importantly, the plaintiff was only seeking compensation for his enhanced burn injuries.

GM argued that although the plaintiff was a passenger, he had been smoking with the driver earlier in the day and therefore should be prevented from recovering compensation for his injuries based on his own negligence. For the purposes of this case, the court assumed that the plaintiff was negligent. The question was whether the plaintiff’s negligence was relevant to the issue of product liability.

The court concluded that the plaintiff’s negligence was not a factor in the analysis. The court began its analysis by acknowledging that this issue had not previously been decided in South Carolina, and the court surveyed other states’ laws. The court determined that of the 22 states that have laws regarding the application of comparative fault in a crashworthiness case, 16 states consider a plaintiff’s negligence, and six do not.

The majority of the states considering a plaintiff’s negligence, however, have passed laws requiring courts to do so. Here, the court ultimately was swayed by the fact that the South Carolina state legislature had not created a law one way or the other. In the absence of a law stating otherwise, the court concluded that the negligence of a plaintiff in a crashworthiness case is irrelevant.

There is currently no law in Maryland instructing courts on how to handle a plaintiff’s alleged negligence in a crashworthiness case. Thus, the in-depth analysis provided by this case may be relevant in any subsequent court’s analysis.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Maryland has a very strict set of laws that prevents any accident victim from recovering for their injuries if they are at all at fault for the accident causing their injuries. The skilled injury attorneys at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have decades of experience representing clients in a wide range of car accident cases, including those arising from defective or dangerously designed car and trucks. Call 410-654-3600 today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Supreme Court Discusses Which Damages Are Appropriate When a Party Acts in Bad Faith, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published May 9, 2017.

Parental Liability for Car Accidents Caused by Minors, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published April 25, 2017.

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