Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Products Liability
Dorman v. State Indus., Inc.
In 2007, four women moved into a Blacksburg apartment. Days later, on August 19, a service technician measured high levels of carbon monoxide at the apartment’s front door. Receiving no answer from the occupants, he entered and found them unconscious in their bedrooms. Days later, the town building official (Cook), the code official, and Mann, a mechanical engineer in heating and air conditioning design, were present for testing of the atmospheric-vented gas fired hot water heater manufactured by State. Cook later testified they were able to recreate the “back draft and carbon monoxide” conditions only when “the water heater was running, all the doors to the bedrooms were closed . . . the air conditioning was running.” Mann testified that, because of sediment, water was continuously draining out of the heater causing a continuous flow of fresh water, resulting in the gas burner continuously firing to heat the water. Testing revealed there was insufficient fresh air in the apartment for proper venting, so the heater generated carbon monoxide. In a case alleging breach of warranty and negligence, seeking more than 24 million dollars in damages, the trial court found State not liable. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed, upholding the use of a jury instruction concerning superseding cause and the admission of evidence on superseding causation. View "Dorman v. State Indus., Inc." on Justia Law
Hyundai Motor Co. v. Duncan
Zachary Gage Duncan sustained a serious injury while driving his 2008 Hyundai Tiburon when he struck a tree. The side airbag did not deploy. Plaintiffs, individual and as Duncan’s guardians and conservators, filed suit against Hyundai, claiming breach of implied warranty of merchantability. During trial, Plaintiffs’ designated expert witness Geoffrey Mahon testified that the location of the side airbag sensor rendered the Tiburon unreasonably dangerous. Hyundai appealed from the judgment of the trial court, arguing that there was an insufficient foundation for the expert witness’s opinion. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding (1) Mahon’s opinion was premised upon his unfounded assumption that the side airbag would have deployed if the sensor had been located in a different area; and (2) because Mahon’s opinion supplied the only support for Plaintiffs’ claim that the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous, the inadmissibility of Mahon’s opinion was fatal to Plaintiffs’ claim. View "Hyundai Motor Co. v. Duncan" on Justia Law
Harman v. Honeywell Int’l, Inc.
The Administrators of the estates of two individuals killed in a single-engine airplane crash filed wrongful death actions against Honeywell International, Inc., the manufacturer of the plane’s autopilot system, alleging that Honeywell breached of the warranty of merchantability. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Honeywell. The Administrators appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erroneously admitted hearsay statements in testimony regarding an accident investigation report prepared by the Mooney Airplane Company describing its investigation of the crash, and their admission was not harmless error; and (2) the circuit court abused its discretion in admitting certain opinion testimony and in allowing Honeywell’s counsel to make certain statements during closing argument. View "Harman v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law
Funkhouser v. Ford Motor Co.
Steven Funkhouser, administrator of the estate of Emily Funkhouser, brought this products liability action against Ford Motor Company and Obaugh Ford, Inc. (collectively "Ford") after his daughter, Emily, died from severe burns she suffered when the family's Ford Windstar minivan caught fire. The circuit court ruled that evidence of seven other Winstar van fires was inadmissible. The parties then entered into an agreed final order wherein Funkhouser stipulated that absent evidence of those fires, he would be unable to prove his failure to warn claims, and therefore, entry of summary judgment was proper. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erred in its application of Virginia law governing admissibility of other similar occurrences and in excluding evidence of four of the other Windstar van fires; and (2) the evidence of three of the Windstar van fires was inadmissible. Remanded. View "Funkhouser v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law