Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Products Liability
Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.
In 2015, Elizabeth Byars was visiting a residence in Huntsville, Alabama owned by Hannelore Sims ("Hannelore") when she was attacked by a pit bull kept by Hannelore's adult grandson Cody Sims ("Cody"), who also resided at the property. The pit bull was allegedly owned by Belinda Jones (whose relationship to Cody and Hannelore was not made clear from the trial court record). Byars sued Hannelore, Cody, and Jones seeking to recover damages for her injuries. Cody was served with notice of Byars's lawsuit, but he failed to answer the complaint. The trial court entered a default judgment against Cody, awarding Byars $200,000. Byars thereafter amended her complaint to assert a claim against State Farm. Specifically, Byars alleged that State Farm had issued a homeowner's insurance policy insuring Hannelore's property and that, because a judgment had been entered against Cody, Byars could assert a claim against State Farm under the direct-action statute. State Farm moved to dismiss, arguing that the direct- action statute did not allow Byars to simply amend her complaint to add State Farm as a defendant. Rather, State Farm argued, Byars was required to initiate a separate action to pursue any claim she might have against State Farm. State Farm petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief when the trial court denied its motion. In denying State Farm's petition, the Supreme Court determined State Farm failed to meet its burden or establishing that it had no adequate remedy aside from a writ of mandamus. View "Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Ex parte Road Gear Truck Equipment, LLC.
Road Gear Truck Equipment, LLC ("Road Gear"), a corporation based in Franklin County, petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its order denying Road Gear's motion to transfer the underlying action to the Franklin Circuit Court and to enter an order transferring the action. Road Gear manufactures trucking equipment, including "cab guards" designed to prevent passengers in tractor-trailer trucks from being injured by shifting loads. Vernon Dement was operating a tractor trailer pulling a load of logs in Madison County, Alabama. While traveling, Dement's truck over turned on a curve in the road. The cargo crashed into the passenger compartment, crushing Dement to death inside the vehicle, and injuring his wife Deborah Dement, who was a passenger in the truck. Deborah filed suit in Marshall County on behalf of herself and in her capacity as the personal representative and administrator of the estate of her husband against Road Gear and fictitiously named defendants. Dement alleged that her injuries and the death of her husband were caused by Road Gear's negligence and wantonness and that Road Gear was liable under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("the AEMLD"). Dement alleged in her complaint that venue was proper in Marshall County because she resided in Marshall County and Road Gear "does business in Marshall County." The Alabama Supreme Court determined FleetPride was Road Gear's "agent" in Marshall County for purposes of determining venue, and that Road Gear failed to show that it did not regularly do business in Marshall County at the time the suit was filed. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying Road Gear's motion to transfer the action to Franklin County. View "Ex parte Road Gear Truck Equipment, LLC." on Justia Law
Forest Laboratories, LLC v. Feheley, Sr.
Forest Laboratories, LLC ("Forest"), filed a permissive appeal pursuant to Rule 5, Ala. R. App. P., of an Alabama circuit court's order denying it summary judgment. Forest manufactured and marketed Lexapro, a drug prescribed for depression, and Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. ("FPI") sold and distributed Lexapro. In 2015, Elias Joubran's physician prescribed Lexapro for Elias's depression. Elias's prescription was filled with generic escitalopram that was manufactured and sold by a company other than Forest. On December 30, 2015, Elias entered the house belonging to him and his wife, Sheila Joubran; he shot and killed Sheila, then shot and killed himself. Kevin Feheley, Sr., serving as personal representative of Shiela's estate, sued Mary Jourbran in her capacity as the personal representative of Elias's estate. Forest, FPI and several fictitiously named defendants were included in the suit. The complaint alleged that, at the time of the murder/suicide, Elias was under prescription for pharmaceuticals manufactured by defendants, including Forest and FPI, and that "Forest's Lexapro enhanced, enabled and aggravated [Elias's] depression and violent behaviors." The Alabama Legislature enacted section 6-5-530, Ala. Code 1975, "on the heels" of the Alabama Supreme Court's decision in Wyeth, Inc. v. Weeks, 159 So. 3d 649 (2014). In addressing the Weeks decision, section 6-5-530 specifically provided that a plaintiff who is suing based on personal injury, death, or property damage caused by a product "must prove ... that the defendant designed, manufactured, sold, or leased the particular product the use of which is alleged to have caused the injury on which the claim is based" regardless of the type of claims or theory of liability the plaintiff asserts. Because this case was a permissive appeal, the questions before the Supreme Court were limited to whether 6-5-530 effectively overruled Weeks, and whether a manufacturer could be held liable for an injury caused by a product it did not manufacture. The Court determined Section 6-5-530 abrogated Weeks: a pharmaceutical manufacturer cannot be held liable for injury caused by a product it did not manufacture. Based on the Court's answer to the trial court's certified question in the permissive appeal, it reversed the trial court's order denying Forest's motion for a summary judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Forest Laboratories, LLC v. Feheley, Sr." on Justia Law
Alabama v. Volkswagen AG
The State appealed a circuit court order that, among other things, dismissed its claims against Volkswagen AG ("VWAG"). The State had filed a complaint claiming VWAG and other defendants, violated the Alabama Environmental Management Act ("the AEMA"), and the Alabama Air Pollution Control Act of 1971 ("the AAPCA") when cars VWAG produced had "defeat devices" installed, designed to alter emissions readings on cars with diesel engines. In other words, the complaint alleged defendants had tampered with the emission-control systems or ordered third parties to tamper with the emission-control systems of vehicles that were licensed and registered in the State of Alabama. Giving its reasons for dismissal, the Supreme Court determined that given the unique factual situation involved in this case, and based on reasoning set by the multi-district litigation court, allowing the State to proceed would "stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Therefore, the trial court properly granted VWAG's motion to dismiss. View "Alabama v. Volkswagen AG" on Justia Law
Hartung Commercial Properties, Inc. v. Buffi’s Automotive Equipment and Supply Company, Inc.
Hartung Commercial Properties, Inc. ("Hartung"), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Buffi's Automotive Equipment and Supply Company, Inc. ("Buffi's Automotive"). Wayne Hartung bought a piece of commercial property that had an auto-body collision, repair, and paint shop ("the body shop") on the premises. Wayne also formed Har-Mar Collisions, Inc. ("Har-Mar") to operate the body shop. Hartung subsequently entered into a lease with Har-Mar pursuant to which Har-Mar leased the body shop. Wayne had a custom-built paint booth installed in the body shop and hired Buffi's Automotive to make the paint booth operational once it was installed. On January 24, 2011, the body shop was completely destroyed by a fire. On July 8, 2011, Hartung sued Har-Mar, Buffi's Automotive, and several fictitiously named defendants in the circuit court asserting claims of negligence and wantonness related to their alleged roles in causing the fire that destroyed the body shop. Buffi's Automotive alleged that, sometime after the fire destroyed the body shop, Hartung ordered what remained of the body shop and all the equipment inside it to be demolished. Buffi's Automotive argued that Hartung allowed the body shop to be demolished even though it believed at that time that Buffi's Automotive had caused the fire; that Buffi's Automotive "was named as a defendant only after the evidence was destroyed"; and that Buffi's Automotive "should have been placed on notice of the claim and allowed to inspect the premises with its own experts prior to destruction of the evidence." The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court could not properly conclude that the sanction of dismissal, as opposed to some lesser sanction, was mandated in the present case. “[B]ased on the record before us at this time, we are simply not convinced that Buffi's Automotive met its burden in this case.” Accordingly, summary judgment was reversed. View "Hartung Commercial Properties, Inc. v. Buffi's Automotive Equipment and Supply Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte Integra LifeSciences Corporation.
Integra LifeSciences Corporation ("Integra") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief in a suit brought by Tawni Brooks and her husband, Bobby Brooks. In 2014, Brooks underwent a double mastectomy and breast-reconstruction procedure at Springhill Memorial Hospital in Mobile. Brooks experienced complications following her surgery, and a subsequent surgery performed in 2015, revealed that those complications were potentially related to surgical mesh implanted in her body as part of the 2014 procedure. In 2016, Brooks sued the doctor who performed the procedure and various fictitiously named defendants, including "the manufacturer of the mesh used in [Brooks]'s operation." Integra was ultimately determined to be the manufacturer of the mesh; the company moved for summary judgment on grounds that the applicable statute of limitations had run, and that Brooks' second amended complaint did not relate back to the original complaint. As to Brooks' Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("AEMLD") claim against Integra, the Alabama Supreme Court granted Integra's petition and issued a writ directing the trial court to enter a summary judgment in favor of Integra. With respect to the breach-of-warranty claim, however, Integra did not establish a clear legal right to relief; as to that claim, the petition was denied. View "Ex parte Integra LifeSciences Corporation." on Justia Law
Ex parte Continental Motors, Inc.
Numerous plaintiffs filed a wrongful death action under section 6-5-410, Ala. Code 1975, against Continental Motors, Inc. ("CMI"), and RAM Aircraft, LP ("RAM"), among others, on behalf of the heirs of Mark Goldstein, Marjorie Gonzalez, and Luis Angel Lopez Barillas (collectively, "the decedents"). On March 10, 2010, the decedents died in an airplane crash in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The crash was allegedly a result of a defective starter-adapter assembly that had been manufactured by CMI and/or the failure of the airplane's engine, which had been refurbished by RAM. Mark and Marjorie were citizens and residents of Honduras; Luis was a citizen and resident of Guatemala. The administration of each of the decedents' estates was conducted in their respective countries of citizenship and residence. CMI and RAM filed motions for a summary judgment arguing that none of the plaintiffs was a personal representative of the decedents and, thus, that plaintiffs lacked the authority to pursue the wrongful-death claims. The circuit court denied CMI's and RAM's summary-judgment motions. CMI and RAM separately petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to set aside its orders denying their summary judgment motions and to enter an order granting their summary judgment motions, thereby dismissing the plaintiffs' wrongful death action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Alabama Court granted CMI's and RAM's petitions in part and denied them in part. The Court concluded CMI and RAM failed to demonstrate the administrator-plaintiffs were without authority to pursue a wrongful-death claim on behalf of Mark's heirs. Therefore, in this regard, the Supreme Court denied CMI's and RAM's petitions for a writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court also concluded CMI and RAM demonstrated that none of the plaintiffs were personal representatives of Marjorie's or Luis's estate and, thus, lacked authority to pursue a wrongful-death claim on behalf of Marjorie's or Luis's heirs. Accordingly, the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the wrongful-death claims brought on behalf of Marjorie's and Luis's heirs, and CMI and RAM were entitled to have their summary-judgment motions granted in that respect and to have those claims dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Therefore, in this regard, the Supreme Court granted CMI's and RAM's petitions for a writ of mandamus and ordered the circuit court to grant CMI's and RAM's summary-judgment motions, and dismissed the wrongful-death claims asserted by the heirs of Marjorie and Luis. View "Ex parte Continental Motors, Inc." on Justia Law
Nissan North America, Inc. v. Scott
Adrienne Scott purchased from Jack Ingram Motors, Inc. ("Jack Ingram"), a new 2015 Nissan Juke automobile, which had been manufactured by Nissan. Scott took the vehicle to Jack Ingram after smelling fuel in the interior of the vehicle. Jack Ingram did not detect the smell; it inspected the fuel system of the vehicle, and found no leaks in the fuel system. Two days later, while Scott was driving the vehicle, it spontaneously caught fire. Scott sued Jack Ingram and Nissan, raising a number of claims stemming from the fire. Jack Ingram moved to compel arbitration of the claims filed against it based on the arbitration agreement Scott had signed in connection with the sale of the vehicle. Scott filed a response indicating that, although she was willing to arbitrate her breach-of-warranty and negligence claims against Jack Ingram, she objected to litigating part of the case, i.e., her claims against Nissan. Scott She indicated in her response that she was willing to arbitrate the case or to litigate the case, but she objected to having to do both. The trial court entered an order holding that, "in the interest of judicial economy," the entire matter should be arbitrated. Nissan filed a motion to reconsider, which the trial court denied. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion by compelling Nissan to arbitrate the claims asserted against it by Scott. The trial court's order was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Nissan North America, Inc. v. Scott" on Justia Law
Mazda Motor Corporation v. Hurst
Mazda Motor Corporation ("Mazda") appealed a judgment entered against it on two jury verdicts resulting from two product liability claims filed in Alabama. The claims stemmed from an accident involving a “Mazda 3” driven by then 16-year-old Sydney McLemore, with 15-year-old Natalie Hurst as a passenger. McLemore was driving 55 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone when she lost control of the car; the car spun around and hit a light pole before coming to a stop, then burst into flames. McLemore suffered third-degree burns covering approximately 15 percent of her body; Hurst died from burn injuries. Hurst’s parents filed suit against Mazda and McLemore, asserting wrongful death, and pertinent here, product liability claims. Specifically, they alleged that Mazda erred by designing the 2008 Mazda 3 so that a plastic fuel tank was positioned one-half inch from a steel muffler that had sharp protruding edges so that when hit, the muffler's sharp edge cut the fuel tank, causing the fuel tank to fail and allowing gasoline vapors to escape and to ignite, which caused the post-collision fuel-fed fire. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record that the trial court did not err with respect to the admission of certain expert testimony. McLemore’s wantonness claim should not have been submitted to the jury, and the judgment must be reversed insofar as it included an award based on that claim. The record did not support an award of punitive damages in connection with McLemore’s claim against Mazda. Further, Mazda has failed to present any argument that would counsel in favor of a remittitur of the Hursts' damages award on their wrongful-death claim, and, therefore, the jury's $3.9 million award in favor of the Hursts and against Mazda. The trial court was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Mazda Motor Corporation v. Hurst" on Justia Law
Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd.
On June 24, 2007, Florian Hinrichs was riding in the front passenger seat of a 2004 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck owned and operated by his friend Daniel Vinson when they were involved in a motor-vehicle accident. It was undisputed that Hinrichs was wearing his seat belt. A vehicle operated by Kenneth Smith, who was driving under the influence of alcohol, ran a stop sign and collided with the passenger-side door of the Sierra. The Sierra rolled over twice, but landed on its wheels. Hinrichs suffered a spinal cord injury in the accident that left him a quadriplegic. The accident occurred in Geneva County, Alabama. Hinrichs alleged that his injuries were caused by the defective design of the roof of the Sierra that allowed the roof over the passenger compartment to collapse during the rollover and by the defective design of the seat belt in the Sierra, which failed to restrain him. At the time of the accident, Hinrichs, a German citizen, was a member of the German military; he had been assigned to Fort Rucker for flight training. He and Vinson were in the same training program. Vinson had purchased the Sierra at Hill Buick, Inc., d/b/a O'Reilly Pontiac-Buick-GMC and/or Hill Pontiac-Buick-GMC ("the O'Reilly dealership"), in Pennsylvania in 2003. He drove it to Alabama in 2006 when he was assigned to Fort Rucker. General Motors Corporation, known as Motors Liquidation Company after July 9, 2009 ("GM"), designed the Sierra. GM Canada, whose principal place of business was in Ontario, Canada, manufactured certain parts of the Sierra, assembled the vehicle, and sold it to GM in Canada, where title transferred. GM then distributed the Sierra for sale in the United States through a GM dealer. The Sierra ultimately was delivered to the O'Reilly dealership for sale. Hinrichs, appealed the trial court's decision to dismiss General Motors of Canada, Ltd. ("GM Canada"), from the case. Finding that the trial court correctly concluded that it had neither general nor specific jurisdiction over GM Canada, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd." on Justia Law