The Supreme Court of Texas issued a decision in Emerson v. Johnson, upholding a multi-million dollar verdict in a Texas product liability lawsuit. The record indicates that the plaintiff, a highly experienced HVAC repairman, suffered severe burns to over 60% of his body while installing an HVAC unit. After an outdated and malfunctioning compressor in the unit exploded, the unit released scalding hot liquid all over the man. Despite the man’s HVAC experience, there was no way he could have known that the new compressor incorporated outdated technology inside the unit.
The man filed a product liability lawsuit against both the product’s manufacturer and an affiliate who designed and made the unit. He argued that the defendants defectively designed and manufactured the terminal and compressor. After a trial, a jury found that the older terminal design was unreasonably dangerous. The defendant asked the court to overturn the verdict based on legal sufficiency grounds or for a retrial because of a jury charge error.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the defendants’ case largely rested on their contention that the plaintiff failed to present evidence that the terminal was unreasonably dangerous. A defective design inquiry requires the jury to find that the product is unreasonably dangerous as designed. The jury must consider the utility of the product and the risk of its use.
In a previous case, American Tobacco v. Grinnell, the Texas Supreme Court identified five types of admissible evidence in design-defect lawsuits:
- The utility of the product to the public weighed against the gravity and likelihood of injury from its use;
- The availability of a safer alternative which is not unreasonably expensive;
- The manufacturer’s ability to eliminate the unsafe characteristic without significantly impairing the product’s usefulness
- The user’s anticipated awareness of the dangers of the product or the existence of appropriate warnings or instructions; and
- An ordinary consumer’s expectations.
In evaluating these elements, the court found that the plaintiff presented legally sufficient evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that a design defect was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The court also reviewed the defendants’ complaint that the jury charge did not include the Grinnell factors. Under the law, the purpose of a jury charge is to submit issues to the jury for decision “logically, simply, clearly, fairly, correctly, and completely.”
Courts will not reverse a jury’s verdict based on a charge error unless it caused an improper judgment or prevented the petitioner from appropriately presenting the case to an appellate court. Further, trial courts maintain wide latitude in constructing jury charges. Here, the Court found that the charge assisted the jury, accurately stated the law, and was supported in pleadings and evidence. Further, the court explained that the defendants failed to address how the omission of some of the Grinnel factors resulted in an improper verdict. As such, the court upheld the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
Have You Suffered Injuries Because of a Defective Product?
If you or someone you love has suffered serious injuries because of a defective or unsafe product, contact the Texas product liability attorneys at Carabin Shaw. Our attorneys understand the life-altering toll that accidents can have on a person and their families. We work tirelessly on behalf of our clients to ensure that they recover the compensation they deserve from those responsible for their injuries. Our firm handles Texas injury cases stemming from car, truck, and bike accidents, defective products, premises liability, animal attacks, work injuries, and more. Contact our office at 800-862-1260 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney on our team.