A recent Texas product liability decision arose from a one-vehicle accident. The plaintiff was driving his vehicle with his family when a back tire burst, triggering a rollover. Those inside the car were injured.
The driver had bought the car used from a car shop that had gotten it as salvage and repaired it before selling it to the husband. The tire in question was made by the defendant. However, the tire had triple the tread amount that is mandated by federal regulations at the time of the accident. The injured plaintiffs sued the tire manufacturer, claiming the tire was negligently or defectively designed and made. They also claimed gross negligence and failure to warn causes of action.
The plaintiffs hired a forensic tire analyst to provide expert testimony. He testified that the tire was made and designed with defects. The manufacturer moved for summary adjudication of the plaintiffs’ claims. It also tried to get the expert’s testimony excluded, arguing that he wasn’t qualified or reliable. Summary judgment was granted, but the request to leave out the expert testimony was denied. The claims against the manufacturer were separated from the plaintiff’s claims against the used car dealership that sold the car.
The couple appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that it was an error for the court to dismiss their defect and negligence claims because the only grounds to grant the motion for summary judgment relied on the trial court granting the defendant’s request to exclude the expert’s testimony. Since the lower court had denied the expert motion, it shouldn’t have granted the summary judgment motion. The manufacturer argued summary judgment was appropriate for these claims because his testimony amounted to no evidence.
The appellate court explained that it agreed with the plaintiff. The manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment had specifically stated that its argument was based on the court excluding the expert’s testimony, rather than the substance of his opinions.
The appellate court reasoned that a lower court couldn’t grant summary judgment on a basis not presented in the motion. In this case, the manufacturer’s summary judgment motion had asked the court not to consider it until after it ruled on the request to exclude. By granting summary judgment after denying a request to exclude, the lower court determined the expert testimony didn’t constitute evidence. The appellate court reversed summary judgment with regard to the defective manufacturing and design claims, as well as the negligence claim.
The plaintiffs also argued that the lower court shouldn’t have granted summary judgment on the defective marketing/failure to warn claim. The manufacturer had argued that since they didn’t designate an expert on failure to warn, there wasn’t evidence to support their complaint. The appellate court reasoned that this argument didn’t support summary judgment because a lack of an expert report was not a critical element of a failure to warn claim.
The manufacturer also claimed that the causation element was negated, since any warnings it could have put on the tire couldn’t have been read. The driver didn’t read English, and the other plaintiffs only slightly understood the language. The plaintiffs argued that the evidence was enough to create a factual issue about whether failure to warn of the risk presented by the tire caused their injuries. The appellate court agreed, noting that their evidence included sworn written testimony from the children of the plaintiffs, stating they could read English and would have told their parents about the warnings.
The appellate court resolved these issues in the plaintiffs’ favor, but it resolved the issue of punitive damages and a duty to warn after the sale against them.
If you have been injured as a result of a defective component of a car, the San Antonio product liability attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.