Articles Posted in Defective Products

In a recent opinion from the Third District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida, a plaintiff appealed his claims after he was denied damages in a suit relating to his sustained injuries from a heavy object being dropped onto his foot. The plaintiff attempted to hold Sunbelt, the loader’s owner, directly liable for his injuries. The complaint alleged that Sunbelt should be held liable for its negligent failure to require that the operators of its loaders be properly trained and should be vicariously liable for the defendant’s alleged negligent operation of the loader under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine. The trial court sided against the plaintiff, which led the plaintiff to appeal.

In this case, the defendant is a licensed contractor who was hired for a clean-up job on private property. The plaintiff accompanied the defendant to the clean-up site and assisted the defendant with cleaning the debris. There were ramps placed inside a bucket attachment that the defendant brought to the cleanup site. After all of the debris was collected, the defendant directed the plaintiff to retrieve the ramps so that the defendant could drive the loader back onto the trailer. The defendant picked up the bucket attachment using the loader’s grapple and drove the loaders toward the trailer. The loader came to a complete stop, and the plaintiff approached the loader on foot and reached into the bucket attachment to retrieve the ramps from within the bucket. While doing so, the loader lurched forward unexpectedly, slipped from his grip, fell on his foot, and amputated two of his toes.

Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine imposes strict vicarious liability on the owner of a motor vehicle who voluntarily entrusts that motor vehicle to an individual whose negligent operation causes harm to another. Under this doctrine, an owner who entrusts another to operate the motor vehicle has an obligation to ensure that the vehicle is operated safely. There is an exception to the doctrine, where the person entrusted with the vehicle injures another while both persons are using the vehicle. If this exception applies, the vehicle’s owner cannot be held vicariously liable for the negligent operation of the vehicle. The exception applies when the individuals are “jointly operating and controlling the movement of the vehicle with common purpose and community interest of enterprise, with equal right to control and direct the conduct of each other.”

In a recent case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a product liability case between a plaintiff that purchased a motorcycle, and the defendant, a motorsports dealer. The plaintiff was injured riding the motorcycle shortly after purchasing it when the motorcycle spun out of control. He brought suit against the defendant for negligence during the assembly and servicing process as well as in a product liability capacity. Following the hearing, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s entire lawsuit based on an exculpatory clause contained within the sales contract that he signed when purchasing the motorcycle.

In 2018, the plaintiff purchased a Suzuki brand motorcycle from the defendant, signing a sales contract containing exculpatory language releasing the defendant dealer from liability. Shortly after buying the motorcycle, the plaintiff was involved in a serious accident and sustained serious bodily injuries. According to the plaintiff, as he was riding it, the front end of the motorcycle began to wobble and thrash, causing him to lose control and crash into another motor vehicle. Following the accident, he sued the defendant, claiming the dealer was negligent in assembling, setting up, servicing, repairing, and or inspecting the motorcycle prior to the sale. Additionally, the plaintiff sued the defendant in its capacity as a seller in the stream of commerce for strict product liability and negligent product liability arising out of manufacturing defects, design defects, and the failure to warn of those defects. At trial, the defendant moved to dismiss the defendant’s complaint based on the exculpatory clause he signed during the purchase. The plaintiff filed a response opposing the dismissal. The trial court subsequently granted the defendant’s motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s entire suit with prejudice based on the exculpatory clause.

On appeal, the plaintiff argues the trial court erred by dismissing the strict product liability counts because the exculpatory clause, due to its plain language, only applied to negligence-based claims. In the appellate court opinion, the appeals court found that much like the public policy driving Florida’s regulation behind licensing of building contractors and building construction standards, the public policy behind adopting the theory of strict liability is rooted in the concept of protecting the safety of consumers. As a result, the exculpatory clause, in this case, purporting to absolve a retailer of liability from strict liability in tort for injuries caused by defects in products it places on the market likewise violates public policy. As a result, the appellate court reversed the portion of the order dismissing the three strict product liability counts.

Companies or individuals that manufacture, market, or distribute consumer products in Florida have a duty to ensure that the products are safe for public use. If a person is injured or killed while using a dangerous product, the companies who manufactured or sold the product may be liable for damages stemming from the incident, however, many exceptions apply to this theory of liability. The Florida Court of Appeal recently denied a plaintiff’s claim against the manufacturer of a computer duster product that was misused and resulted in a car accident that injured the plaintiff.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a man who was injured when a driver lost control of her vehicle and crashed into cars parked in his driveway, pinning him under a vehicle and resulting in serious injury. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the woman driving had recently purchased and inhaled a can of computer duster manufactured by the defendant corporation and sold by Walmart (also a defendant in the case). The woman admitted to using the computer duster to “get high,” and was charged with a felony DUI offense after the crash.

The accident victim sued the driver for negligence based on the injuries he suffered in the crash, and also sued both Walmart and the product manufacturer for designing, marketing, and selling a dangerous product. Using a strict liability theory of negligence, the plaintiff claimed that the manufacturer and seller of the computer duster could be held accountable for reasonably foreseeable conduct that resulted from selling the product, namely that it could be abused as an intoxicant. In response to the plaintiff’s claim, the defendants disputed their liability for the crash, arguing that strict liability should only apply if a person is using the product as intended by the manufacturer.

With mild, warm weather year-round, Florida residents are no stranger to commuting by electric bike or scooter to enjoy the sunshine without compromising mobility and efficiency. Many of these electric bikes or scooters, however, are operated by complex technology and lithium-ion batteries, which can come with risks of the bike or its parts being defective and potentially dangerous. When a piece of machinery like an electric scooter or bike causes injury because it has defective components by design or manufacturing error, those who are responsible must be held accountable for any resulting damage or injury.

According to a recent news report, a lithium-ion battery from an electric bike or scooter self-combusted in an apartment building, which caused a four-alarm fire. Local authorities responded to the fire in the middle of the night, where it was only extinguished three hours later with one firefighter sustaining minor injuries in the process. After an initial investigation, fire marshals determined that the fire was caused by a battery that burst into flames in a restaurant on the ground floor of the building. The fire then spread vertically through the building, reaching as far up as to damage apartments located on the top floor. The fire remains under investigation.

Although it is unclear what the make and model of the electric bike or scooter was, there has been a steady increase in fires caused by electric bikes recently. In New York, more than 100 fires were caused by these devices, which resulted in 79 injuries and four deaths in 2021 alone.

When we buy a product, whether it’s food, an appliance, or a car, we expect and trust that the product will be safe for our use. Sometimes, however, these products can cause property damage or injury, which may mean that you may be eligible to receive compensation. From prescription drugs to negligently manufactured appliances, product liability lawsuits are always available for consumers so that the public can hold manufacturers accountable.

According to a recent news report, a major car accident involving a Tesla is prompting a federal investigation into the vehicle’s new technology and safety for consumers. After the accident killed two people, U.S. safety investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board sent three representatives to specifically look for photos or videos of the crash or the fire that broke out after the initial accident. Because Tesla vehicles are electric do not use gasoline, it is unclear what specifically caused the crash or the fire. It is also unclear whether the vehicle’s automated driving system was activated at the time of the collision, which has been the subject of federal interest in recent years. The report investigators plan to generate will create recommendations to other federal agencies about future safety regulations.

In Florida, there are frequent incidents that give rise to similar product liability claims. These claims, however, are subject to specific laws and requirements that govern product liability lawsuits. Because these cases can often be complex, it is crucial that potential plaintiffs understand the details surrounding filing a product liability lawsuit and what a claim will entail.

Despite innovations in technology to make life easier, accidents often still occur. When these accidents cause injury or death, the responsible party will often blame the technology for the incident. However, in many cases, the user of the technology has still made errors leading to the accident. Because of this, they are still liable, and the injured person can bring a negligence lawsuit. But when the accident was not the fault of another person but actually a defective product, Florida law allows the injured party to bring a lawsuit in this instance too. Since it is difficult to discern whether a person should bring a negligence or a defective product lawsuit, listed below are the elements of both negligence and products liability lawsuits.

In Florida, an airborne Tesla plowed through a stop sign and into a home early last week. According to one news report, the car was fully airborne when it crashed through the house, leaving a massive hole in the middle of the property. The driver of the car sped through a stop sign and hit a curb—this sent the car into the air and into the house. The accident caused the death of a 69-year-old woman in the house, a passenger in the car, and left three people seriously injured. While the vehicle has an Autopilot function, it was not deployed at the time of the accident.

Negligence Lawsuits

An appeals court recently issued an opinion in a case that may have drastic consequences on Florida product liability lawsuits. The decision pertained to a case involving a plaintiff who filed a lawsuit against Amazon for injuries she suffered from a hoverboard she purchased on the website from a third-party seller. The court was tasked with determining whether Amazon could be held strictly liable for defective products on its site.

The massive online retailer argued that it was not liable for the victim’s injuries because Amazon merely operates as a service provider and not as the seller or supplier of the product. In support of its argument, Amazon argued that it did not possess any proactive authority over the item and could merely address safety issues after they had been reported.

Despite Amazon’s contentions, the court upheld previous decisions finding Amazon strictly liable for the defective product. The court reasoned that Amazon played a “pivotal” role in bringing the product to the consumer. Further, the court stated that Amazon would need to bear the consequences of its business model of placing itself in the vertical chain of distribution of the defective hoverboard.

A Florida federal court recently addressed a product liability claim against a medical device company and its parent company. The case arose when the plaintiff underwent surgery for her pelvic organ prolapse. Her physician implanted a polypropylene mesh designed by the defendants. After surgery, the woman experienced significant health issues that she attributed to the mesh device. Following the removal surgery, the woman and her husband filed a product liability claim against the defendants based on a failure to warn.

In response, the defendants moved for summary judgment based on the state’s learned intermediary doctrine. The doctrine imposes a duty on medical device manufacturers to warn of the product’s dangers to physicians instead of patients. In this case, the plaintiffs argue that the doctrine does not apply because the physician maintained a long-standing financial relationship with the defendants. Therefore, it was unreasonable for the defendants to expect the physician to warn patients of the device’s dangers. The plaintiffs asked the courts to create a “financial bias” exception to the state’s learned intermediary doctrine. The lower court declined to create such an exception and found in favor of the defendants. The plaintiffs appealed based on the failure-to-warn claim.

Under Florida law, plaintiffs pursuing a failure-to-warn claim must establish that the product’s warning was 1.) inadequate, 2.) the inadequacy approximately caused the victim’s injuries, and 3.) the victim suffered an injury from using the product. In cases involving a medical device, the physician acts as the “learned intermediary,” and it is their responsibility to weigh the device’s potential risks and benefits to their patients. For a plaintiff to succeed on a claim against the device manufacturer, they must prove that the doctor would not have used the product if the manufacturer included an adequate warning. Moreover, the chain may still be broken if the manufacturer provides an insufficient warning, so long as the doctor is aware and still recommends the device.

Florida medical malpractice and product liability laws allow injury victims to hold negligent parties liable for their injuries. Many cases involve the interplay of both of these areas of the area, which enhances the complexity of these lawsuits. Florida’s strict medical malpractice and product liability laws impose significant burdens on injury victims. For example, claimants must prove that a medical professional breached a standard of care and the breach was the “proximate” or “actual” cause of the victim’s damages. However, in some cases involving defective products, there is no requirement to show the manufacturer breached a duty. Plaintiffs must meet all procedural and evidentiary requirements to avoid the dismissal of an otherwise legitimate claim.

In most cases, Florida medical malpractice and defective product claims hinge on an expert witness’s testimony. After several years of constant flux regarding the appropriate expert witness standard, in 2019, the Florida Supreme Court stated that the state follows the Daubert standard for the admission of expert testimony. Under Daubert, the trial judge maintains the discretionary gatekeeping function to determine whether an expert’s testimony is reliable and relevant. Specifically, the rule explains that an expert is qualified by knowledge, skill, or technical training and education to form an opinion. A court may qualify an expert if:

  • Their credentials will help the fact finder understand relevant evidence;

Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion unanimously ruling against Ford in a product liability lawsuit. The ruling will significantly impact a Florida product liability accident victim’s ability to file a lawsuit in the state. The case arose when a woman died when her vehicle’s tread separated, and the car spun and rolled into a ditch. The other claim involved a passenger who suffered brain damage when the vehicle’s airbag failed to deploy. In response to the plaintiffs’ lawsuits, Ford argued that the states hearing the cases did not maintain jurisdiction because the cars in the incident were not designed, manufactured or initially sold in the state. The auto manufacturer maintained that allowing the cases to be heard in those forums upended their ability to know where and under what circumstances accident victims may sue them.

Historically, Florida product liability accident victims face challenges in establishing where to sue. Generally, Florida plaintiffs cannot sue a negligent company in any state that the plaintiff chooses. The law provides that plaintiffs must establish that the Court has jurisdiction over the case. Jurisdiction inquiries typically involve examining whether the company maintains “minimum contacts” with Florida and if they “purposefully availed” themselves of the state’s privileges. Courts will also look to whether hearing a lawsuit in the state comports with theories of “fair play and substantial justice.” These analyses are fact-specific and require the experience of an attorney well-versed in these complex jurisdictional issues.

In the recent case, the Supreme Court Justices opined that Ford purposefully availed itself of the privileges of conducting activities in both states involved in the lawsuit. The law does not require plaintiffs to establish a causal link between where the company sold the car and where they designed or manufactured it. Specific jurisdiction occurs in situations when a company encourages a market for a product in the forum state. In this case, the automaker advertises and markets its products in the forum states and cultivates relationships between the vehicle owners. The Court found that the defendant systemically fostered a relationship between consumers and the vehicles involved in the accidents. As such, there is a relationship between Ford, the states, and the litigation. This finding will undoubtedly result in a drastic change in the legal landscape regarding product liability lawsuits involving vehicles.

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