Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Products Liability
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
Hosford v. BRK Brands, Inc.
Consolidated appeals arose from the death of four-year-old Nevaeh Johnson in a fire that destroyed her family's mobile home in May 2011. Following Nevaeh's death, Nevaeh's mother, Latosha Hosford; Latosha's husband, Chad Barley ("Barley"); and Nevaeh's grandmother, Rhonda Hosford ("Hosford"), sued multiple parties, of note, BRK Brands, Inc. ("BRK"), the manufacturer of two smoke alarms in the mobile home at the time of the fire. The plaintiffs alleged that BRK was responsible for Nevaeh's death inasmuch as a BRK-manufactured ionization smoke alarm allegedly did not respond to smoke caused by the fire and sound an alarm in time to allow Nevaeh to escape. In appeal no. 1140899, Latosha appealed the judgment as a matter of law entered on her failure-to-warn, negligence, and wantonness claims, as well as a judgment entered on the jury's verdict following the trial of her products-liability claim brought under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("AEMLD"). In appeal no. 1140901, Latosha and Hosford, as co-administratrixes of Nevaeh's estate, appealed the judgment as a matter of law entered on their breach-of-warranty claim seeking compensatory damages on behalf of Nevaeh for pain and mental anguish she allegedly suffered before her death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that with respect to Latosha's AEMLD claim, she did not submit evidence identifying a safer, practical, alternative design that BRK could have used for the ionization smoke alarms purchased by Barley for use in the mobile home; accordingly, BRK was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on that claim. Inasmuch as Latosha and Hosford conceded that the Supreme Court need not consider any of the other judgments entered by the trial court if the judgment entered on the AEMLD claim was affirmed, the Court affirmed those other judgments. View "Hosford v. BRK Brands, Inc." on Justia Law
Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd.
Plaintiff Florian Hinrichs was riding in the front passenger seat of a 2004 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck that was owned and operated by his friend Daniel Vinson when they were involved in a motor-vehicle accident. Kenneth Smith was driving under the influence of alcohol and ran a stop sign, colliding 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. 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 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. Finding that the trial court properly concluded it lacked general nor specific jurisdiction over GM Canada, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of GM Canada from this case. View "Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd." on Justia Law
Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. Burden
Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. ("Jim Bishop"), appealed judgment entered on jury verdicts in favor of Michael and Tina Burden ("Burden"). In 2012, the Burdens sued General Motors, LLC, Jim Bishop, and Lynn Layton Chevrolet, Inc. ("Lynn Layton"), to recover damages for injuries they allegedly sustained as the result of a fire that occurred in a truck they had purchased from an automobile dealership owned and operated by Jim Bishop. When Jim Bishop filed its answer, also generally denying the allegations contained in the complaint and asserting certain affirmative defenses, Jim Bishop further asserted a cross-claim against General Motors alleging it had refused to indemnify Jim Bishop. The Burdens eventually entered into pro tanto settlements with General Motors, which agreed to pay them $20,000, and Lynn Layton, which agreed to pay them $32,000, as to the respective claims asserted by the Burdens against those defendants. The settlement with General Motors resolved the breach-of-warranty claims and the "Magnuson-Moss" claim. The trial court dismissed the Burdens' claims against both General Motors and Lynn Layton pursuant to joint stipulations of dismissal filed by those parties. Jim Bishop moved the trial court for a summary judgment on the Burdens' remaining claims against it, moved at the close of evidence for a judgment as a matter of law, and renewed its JML motion post-verdict. All three were denied, and the jury returned its verdict against Jim Bishop. Based on its review of the facts entered into the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in failing to grant Jim Bishop's motion for a JML and in submitting the case to the jury. Therefore, it reversed the judgment entered in favor of the Burdens on the jury's verdicts and rendered a judgment for Jim Bishop. View "Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. Burden" on Justia Law
Cavalier Manufacturing, Inc. v. Gant
Cavalier Manufacturing, Inc. appealed a circuit court order that denied its motion to alter, amend, or vacate an arbitration award entered in favor of Janie Gant. Gant purchased a mobile home manufactured by Cavalier from Demopolis Home Center, L.L.C. ("DHC"). At the time of purchase, Gant and representatives of Cavalier and DHC executed an alternative-dispute-resolution agreement in which they agreed to arbitrate any disputes that might arise among them stemming from Gant's purchase of the mobile home. The mobile home was also covered by a manufacturer's warranty issued by Cavalier that likewise contained a provision requiring arbitration of any disputes that might arise between her and Cavalier relating to the mobile home. Gant was not satisfied with the manner in which DHC delivered and installed the mobile home on her property. Eventually Gant sued, and the matter was submitted to arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Gant $45,550 on her breach-of-express-warranty claim, plus an additional sum to be determined for attorney fees. Cavalier argued on appeal that the trial court erred by confirming the arbitration award in favor of Gant. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cavalier Manufacturing, Inc. v. Gant " on Justia Law
Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. v. Valloze
John and Judith Valloze and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company; State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company; Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation; Freightliner, Allison Transmission, Inc. ("Allison Transmission"); and Cummins Atlantic, LLC, separately petitioned the Supreme Court for writs of mandamus to direct the Franklin Circuit Court to dismiss the declaratory-judgment actions filed against them by Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. Tiffin manufactured and sold custom-made motor homes. In its complaint in the Valloze action, Tiffin alleged that the Vallozes, who reside in Florida, purchased a Tiffin "Allegro Red" motor home that was manufactured by Tiffin in Red Bay, Florida. In 2011, the Vallozes' motor home caught fire somewhere in South Carolina and was declared a total loss. Nationwide insured the motor home, and it paid the Vallozes for their loss. Tiffin subsequently filed a complaint against the Vallozes, Nationwide, Freightliner, Allison Transmission, and Cummins in Alabama, describing Allison Transmission and Cummins as manufacturers of component parts for Tiffin that Tiffin alleged were the source of the fire. The Vallozes, Nationwide, Allison Transmission, Freightliner and Cummins filed motions to dismiss which were ultimately denied. The trial court did not provide reasons for its rulings. All parties appealed. In the Katnich action, Tiffin alleged that Karen Katnich purchased a Tiffin "Phaeton" motor home in Virginia, and somewhere in North Carolina, the motor home caught fire and suffered a total loss. Tiffin sued State Farm, Custom Automated Services, Inc., Waterway, Inc., Maxzone Auto Parts Corporation and Freightliner, alleging each manufactured parts for Tiffin that were the source of the fire. In both cases, Tiffin asserted that a real, present justiciable controversy existed between the parties as to the cause and origins of the motor home fires. Again the trial court denied motions to dismiss, and provided no reasons for its ruling. After its review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded with the conclusion of the overwhelming majority of other jurisdictions that declaratory-judgment actions were not intended to be a vehicle for potential tort defendants to obtain a declaration of nonliability. Because a bona fide justiciable controversy did not exist either action, the Court concluded that the trial court erred in denying the petitioners' motions to dismiss Tiffin's complaints. View "Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. v. Valloze " on Justia Law
McDonald v. Kubota Manufacturing of America Corporation et al.
Rebecca B. McDonald, as administrator of the estate of her son Jeremy Wayne McDonald, sued Kubota Manufacturing of America Corporation, Kubota Corporation, and Kubota Tractor Corporation, asserting various claims after her son died as a result of injuries sustained when a Kubota lawnmower he was operating rolled over, pinning him underneath it. Following a three-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Kubota defendants, and the trial court entered a judgment on that verdict. McDonald's subsequent motion for a new trial was denied by the trial court, and McDonald appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that she was entitled to a new trial based on juror misconduct and errors the trial court made when instructing the jury. Finding no abuse of discretion nor errors at trial, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "McDonald v. Kubota Manufacturing of America Corporation et al. " on Justia Law
Wyeth, Inc., et al. v. Weeks
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Southern Division certified a question to the Alabama Supreme Court: "Under Alabama law, may a drug company be held liable for fraud or misrepresentation (by misstatement or omission), based on statements it made in connection with the manufacture or distribution of a brand-name drug, by a plaintiff claiming physical injury from a generic drug manufactured and distributed by a different company?" Plaintiffs Danny and Vicki Weeks filed this action against five current and former drug manufacturers for injuries that Mr. Weeks allegedly suffered as a result of his long-term use of the prescription drug product metoclopramide, the generic form of the brand-name drug "Reglan." The Weekses contended that the Wyeth defendants had a duty to warn Danny's physician about the risks associated with the long-term use of metoclopramide and that the Weekses, as third parties, have a right to enforce the alleged breach of that duty. The Supreme Court concluded: "[i]n the context of inadequate warnings by the brand-name manufacturer placed on a prescription drug manufactured by a generic-drug manufacturer, it is not fundamentally unfair to hold the brand-name manufacturer liable for warnings on a product it did not produce because the manufacturing process is irrelevant to misrepresentation theories based, not on manufacturing defects in the product itself, but on information and warning deficiencies, when those alleged misrepresentations were drafted by the brand-name manufacturer and merely repeated by the generic manufacturer." View "Wyeth, Inc., et al. v. Weeks " on Justia Law
McMahon v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., et al.
Plaintiffs Jacklyn and Donald McMahon sued Defendants Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A.; Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America; Yamaha Motor Co., LTD. ("the Yamaha defendants"); and Montgomery Outdoor Power Products, Inc., d/b/a Montgomery Yamaha-Honda. They asserted a products-liability claim under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("AEMLD"), as well as negligence, wantonness, breach-of-warranty, and loss-of-consortium claims. Jacklyn was injured in July 2007 when the 2007 Yamaha Rhino 660, a two-passenger off-road utility vehicle that the McMahons had purchased from Montgomery Yamaha-Honda, rolled over while she was driving it, resulting in injuries to her arms and legs when she extended them out of the vehicle in an attempt to support herself and/or the vehicle during the rollover. At the close of evidence, the McMahons withdrew their breach-of-warranty claim and the Yamaha defendants moved for a judgment as a matter of law on the remaining claims. After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Yamaha defendants, the McMahons appealed the judgment on the negligence and wantonness claims. Upon further review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court found that the McMahons produced substantial evidence to support their wantonness claim and that the trial court accordingly erred by entering a judgment as a matter of law in favor of the Yamaha defendants on that claim. However, any error the trial court may have committed in entering a judgment as a matter of law in favor of the Yamaha defendants on the McMahons' negligence claim was harmless because the jury's verdict on their AEMLD claim established that their negligence claim would have been unsuccessful. View "McMahon v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., et al. " on Justia Law