Lawyers in our firm’s Personal Injury & Product Liability Section handle cases involving catastrophic injuries and deaths arising out of any type of accident, including car crashes, 18-wheeler accidents, industrial accidents and workplace accidents. Potential products liability claims are often overlooked by some lawyers when investigating what many view as routine accidents. In many motor vehicle crashes, some defect – either design or manufacturing – played a major role in causing the accident.
A product liability claim focuses on whether or not the product is defective. An entire product may be defective, or it may be that a component part of the product contains the defect. The product may well contain design, manufacturing, or warning defects. In some cases, it will be a combination of these problems.
Personal Injury claims that involve defective products include aviation litigation, heavy truck litigation, automobile accidents and premises and workplace accidents.
Below are just a few of the types of cases our firm handles on a regular basis.
Heavy Trucking Accidents
There are significant differences between handling an interstate trucking case and other car wreck cases. It is imperative to have knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, technology, business practices, insurance coverages, and to have the ability to discover written and electronic records. Expert testimony is of utmost importance. Accidents involving semi-trucks and passenger vehicles often result in serious injuries and wrongful death. Trucking companies and their insurance companies almost always quickly send accident investigators to the scene of a truck accident to begin working to limit their liability in these situations.
Chris Glover, a lawyer in the firm’s Product Liability & Personal Injury Section and Managing Attorney of the firm’s Atlanta office, has represented numerous folks who have been seriously injured or lost a family member as a result of the wrongful conduct of a trucking company. Contact Chris Glover, Cole Portis or Rob Register.
Tire failure can result in a serious car crash causing serious injury or death to the car’s occupants. Air, heat and sunlight can cause the rubber in tires to break down. When a tire is defective, potentially serious problems like detreads and blowouts can occur long before the tire would be expected to wear out. If the tire failure is the result of design or manufacturing defects, and the manufacturer is aware of the problem, they have an obligation to alert consumers to the potential danger.
One serious problem with tires is that they wear down on the inside as they age, but they look brand new on the outside. Despite the dangers of tire aging, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has still refused to establish a tire aging standard. A tire aging standard would make it easier for consumers to determine the tire’s age. Right now, the only way to determine the age of a tire is to decipher the cryptic code on the tire’s sidewall. Also, a tire aging standard would make it mandatory for tire centers to take tires out of service at a specified date, regardless of what the tire looks like on the outside.
Our lawyers are also seeing a huge influx of defectively designed tires from China. As more and more of the products we buy, including tires, are being made in China and other foreign countries, the “importers” role is becoming more critical because it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain jurisdiction over these foreign entities. In too many instances, “importers” are not taking the appropriate steps to assure that foreign tire makers’ tires are safe, despite the NHTSA standards requiring them to do so.
Under Federal law, “importers” must take steps to assure that the tires they import are free of defects. Good manufacturing processes require “importers” to conduct on-site inspection(s) of a foreign tire makers’ facilities to assure that adequate testing, manufacturing, quality control and other measures are in place. Further, “importers,” once they import tires into this country, should perform random sampling, testing and inspection of foreign tires before they distribute and/or sell the tires to consumers in this country.
In one recent case, we learned that while a company was importing more than 400,000 tires a month it was doing nothing to ensure that the Chinese tires it imported, sold and profited from, were safe. The importer never inspected the manufacturing plant, never observed any tire testing and never checked to see if the Chinese manufacturer employed any quality control measures for its tires and plants. Further, the importer never performed one post “import” inspection, test and/or took any other step relative to one single tire it sold despite the Federal requirements to do so. This conduct is particularly troubling when you consider how important tires are to our safety. Companies that import tires, or any product for that matter, should be held accountable when they do nothing to ensure these products are safe for American consumers. Our Product Liability Section has pursued numerous claims against both tire manufacturers and importers of the defective Chinese tires.
Beasley Allen lawyer Ben Baker has written a book providing helpful information about evaluating a case for defective tires. Tire Litigation: A Primer is available free to lawyers. The purpose of the book is to provide lawyers with a guidebook to evaluating tire litigation. If you have questions regarding a potential tire case, please contact LaBarron Boone or Ben Baker.
Fuel Fed Fires
Almost everyone remembers the infamous Ford Pinto. The Pinto had a fuel tank mounted behind the rear axle. This position allowed for dangerous, and often explosive, consequences in rear impact accidents. Similarly, there are vehicles with gas tanks mounted on the sides of the vehicle outside the structure of the frame. These “sidesaddle” tanks also leave the vehicle vulnerable to impact in a collision. The overall safest positioning of a gas tank is between the front and rear axles of the vehicle. However, manufacturers didn’t always follow this guideline and many vehicles do not provide the proper structural protection for the tank. Collisions with these vehicles can lead to fuel-fed fires.
Also, it is not always the location of the fuel tanks that can lead to fuel fed fires. Design defects related to fuel fed fires can involve several different vehicle systems. The design issues can relate to issues of fuel filler cap design, fuel line design, fuel tank design, and also include fuel pump design. Fuel systems should be designed to maintain their integrity during reasonably foreseeable accidents so that occupants do not lose their lives in otherwise survivable accidents. If the occupants can survive crash forces without serious injury, so should the fuel system.
Rollover and Stability Issues
Some sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and 15-passenger vans, often used to transport school children, church groups, and sports teams, may be prone to rollover due to their high center of gravity and narrow track width. After a driver makes an avoidance maneuver, he should be able to regain control of his vehicle or the vehicle should “slide out” on the road without rolling over. A vehicle should not roll over because of friction forces alone. A vehicle should not rollover on dry flat pavement. When a vehicle rolls over on dry, flat pavement more likely than not it is due to a defect in the design of the vehicle’s handling and stability.
Recently, a jury in Dallas County, Alabama found Ford Motor Company at fault for a rollover crash of a 1998 Ford Explorer that left Travaris “Tre” Smith paralyzed. The jury awarded Tre $151,791,000, which consisted of $51,791,000 in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages. The jury found that Ford failed to meet its own safety guidelines for the Explorer’s rollover resistance requirement and attempted to cover up the vehicle’s defective design. Beasley Allen lawyers LaBarron Boone, Kendall Dunson and Greg Allen, along with Bill Gamble of the Selma firm of Gamble, Gamble, Calame and Jones, LLC handled the case.
To protect occupants in a rollover, maintaining survival space is very important. Survival space is the space around an occupant that remains free of intrusion in an accident. It is the area in which an occupant is able to “survive” the crash. A roof is part of the structural support of a vehicle and is therefore a critical component in keeping the occupant safe. If a roof crushes substantially during an accident, from a failure of the side rails, headers or support pillars, catastrophic injuries can occur. Often, this decreased survival space results in the occupant’s head impacting some portion of the vehicle causing death, paralysis or brain damage. Sometimes, the occupant can even be partially ejected through an opening created during roof crush.
Seat Belt Malfunctions
There are thought to be two collisions in an auto accident. The first collision is the vehicle’s impact with another vehicle or object. The second collision is the passenger’s impact with the interior of the vehicle, or in cases of ejection, impact outside the vehicle. Seat belt injuries can occur when a defective seat belt fails to adequately protect a vehicle passenger in the “second collision” phase of an automobile accident. The purpose of a seat belt is to minimize the injuries and damage caused in a second collision by reducing or eliminating injurious occupant contact with the vehicle’s interior. Seat belt injuries often occur when there is a seat belt design, production, or installation defect. There is a plethora of injuries that may occur as a result of a defective seat belt or from failure of a seat belt: spinal cord injury, brain or head injury, paralysis, internal injuries, amputations, broken bones, concussions and fatalities.
Clark v. General Motors was a product liability action we filed that arose from a single-vehicle rollover crash involving a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am that occurred on Feb. 6, 2008. During the rollover crash, Leanne Clark’s seatbelt opened up. She was ejected from the car. As a result of the seatbelt’s failure to restrain her during the rollover, Ms. Clark is now a paraplegic. Takata designed and manufactured the buckle used in the 1999 Pontiac Grand Am being driven by Ms. Clark at the time of the accident. Takata knew the seatbelt would be used in foreseeable rollover crashes and that the buckle had opened up in other rollover crashes. Despite this knowledge, Takata failed to test the buckle to ensure it would withstand a rollover crash and refuses to implement a system to collect field complaints.
Obviously, if an airbag fails to deploy, there may be an airbag case. However, don’t overlook other airbag claims. Aggressive airbags that deploy at excessive speeds can cause head or neck injuries or other broken bones. Children are especially susceptible to injuries and or death caused by an airbag. Sadly, since the Takata airbag debacle that involved millions of defective airbags, we have noticed a large amount of airbag recalls of the airbags that were sent to replace the Takata ones. In the last two months alone, Volkswagen, BMW, Takata, Subaru, Nissan, Ferrari, GM, Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi have had to issue airbag recalls, many of the replacement airbags that were installed after the Takata defective airbags had been removed.
If you would like more information regarding airbag cases, contact Chris Glover.
Cab Guards and Under Ride Protection
Cab guards or headache racks are required as front-end structures on 18-wheelers that pull flat beds, trailers and log trailers and should function to prevent shifting cargo from contacting the cab of heavy trucks. Many cab guards are designed of welded heat-treated aluminum, which results in a weakening of the cab guard over time. The weakening of the cab guard due to fatigue stress is relatively unknown to drivers. Many welding requirements established by national organizations are not followed by cab guard manufacturers. The failure to follow such guidelines result in poor welds, poor quality control, and poorly designed cab guards for their intended purpose of protecting truck occupants.
An under-ride protection device extends below the trailer in order to prevent an automobile from riding under the trailer in the event of a rear impact. Many heavy trucks and/or trailers are defectively designed in that the vehicles do not have proper under ride protection devices. When a vehicle is allowed to under ride a heavy truck trailer, it results in severe injuries to vehicle occupants since passenger cars are substantially lower than the bed of heavy truck trailers. When appropriate under ride guards are in place, vehicles are prevented from under riding these trailers and severe injuries that occur in foreseeable rear end collisions are substantially reduced.
Industrial Accidents and Workplace Defects
Each year, thousands of workers are injured or killed at their workplace. Although a state’s workers’ compensation system places limitations on the ability of employees to hold employers accountable for these work-related injuries, many people do not realize that there may be another available source of recovery. Injuries in the workplace are often caused by defective products, such as a machine where a dangerous nip-point is not properly guarded nor is the employee warned of the dangerous nip-point. If a product causes an on-the-job injury, a product liability suit may be brought against the product’s manufacturer. Catastrophic injuries, deaths, and amputations unfortunately too commonly occur from defective products found in the workplace.
Our firm handles numerous product cases each year that arise in the context of an accident that occurred on the job or in the workplace. If you have any questions about accidents in the workplace, contact Kendall Dunson, Evan Allen or Ben Locklar.
Soaring through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour, thousands of feet above the ground in an aircraft leaves little room for error. One small mechanical problem, misjudgment or faulty response in the air can spell disaster for air passengers and even unsuspecting people on the ground. This is why it’s crucial for the aviation industry, including manufacturers, pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers, to adhere to the highest possible standards at all times.
Statistics indicate mechanical failures cause up to 22 percent of aviation crashes. Historically, aircraft manufacturing defects, flawed aircraft design, inadequate warning systems and inadequate instructions for safe use of the aircraft’s equipment or systems have contributed to numerous aviation crashes. In such cases, the pilot may follow every procedure correctly but still be unable to avert disaster. Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, has handled numerous cases involving defects found in aircrafts. Mike has been actively involved in the Boeing cases and represents families of those who died needlessly in the Boeing crashes. Contact Mike Andrews or Cole Portis.
Non-Auto Product Defects
Our lawyers in the Section also handle defective products, including smoke detectors, flammable clothing, industrial equipment, and heaters just to name a few. Most of the time, family members do not suspect that a defective product is the cause of a death or injury, and manufacturers readily blame the victim’s actions. Our firm has discovered that defective products are increasingly a major cause of unexpected deaths and injuries. If you have any questions about non-auto product defects, contact Parker Miller, Rob Register or Donovan Potter.
Premises Liability Litigation
Premises Liability Cases can involve claims arising out of falls caused by a foreign substance on the premises, falls caused by a part of the premises, as well as injuries caused by falling items. Specifically, in a case involving a foreign substance on a floor, a Plaintiff must establish that the foreign substance caused the fall and that the Defendant premises owner had notice or should have had notice of the substance at the time of the accident.
The law is different when injuries are caused by part of the premises which is in a dangerous condition, such as part of a doorway, curb, or stairs, or where the injury is caused by a display created by a store employee.
In situations where the injury is caused by part of the premises or a display that was set up by the store, proof of notice is not a prerequisite, but the Plaintiff must still prove the injury was caused by a defective or dangerous condition. Injuries caused by falling objects most often involve items falling from displays that are either part of the premises or were set up by the store. If the falling object is the result of a display set up by the store or some part of the premises falling, then the customer does not have to prove notice.
If you have any questions, need more information or want to discuss a potential case in any of the categories set out above, contact Sloan Downes, Director of the Section, at 800-898-2034. She will put you in touch with a lawyer. The lawyers in the Section are Cole Portis, who heads the Section, Greg Allen, Mike Crow, Graham Esdale, LaBarron Boone, Dana Taunton, Ben Baker, Kendall Dunson, Mike Andrews, Ben Locklar, Chris Glover, Parker Miller, Evan Allen, Stephanie Monplaisir, Rob Register, Donovan Potter, Warner Hornsby, Ben Keen, and Dan Philyaw.
This story appears in the March 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.