Roll-over cases in Florida involving both negligent driving and product defects can be complex and challenging because different standards apply to different aspects of the case. In a 2012 case, a woman tried to recover damages for injuries she suffered in a car accident. She had been hurt in a roll-over crash while driving her boyfriend’s Ford Explorer.
The woman sued Ford for strict liability, negligence, and associated claims of defects, including negligent design of the suspension system. She alleged that the suspension system was designed so that it would roll over with a sudden lane change, and that its roof and safety systems didn’t offer proper protection.
Ford defended itself by arguing that the plaintiff was negligent in how she drove. It moved for summary judgment on that basis. The evidence attached to the moving and opposing papers were limited. Ford argued that the plaintiff was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident and that was why she was hurt. It also argued she didn’t present expert testimony on the issue of defects.
The trial court granted summary judgment. The plaintiff requested a rehearing. She presented an affidavit from an expert attesting to defects in how the car handled and its roof system. The trial court denied the motion. The plaintiff appealed.
The defendant argued that the evidence attached to the motion showed there were no issues of material fact and that it showed the plaintiff had driven while intoxicated, causing the accident. Ford argued that because it had presented evidence about the cause of the accident, the burden had shifted to the plaintiff to show there was a material issue of fact.
The appellate court reasoned that the complaint alleged design defects caused the accident. Even if the woman had been negligent and caused the vehicle to roll, her allegations of defectively designed roof structure and safety system still needed to be decided.
Just because a particular defect had not caused the accident, it did not mean that other defects weren’t responsible for injuries caused.
The appellate court explained that someone who is hurt by a mechanical defect in a car is protected under the doctrine of strict liability. This means that the manufacturer may be held responsible for injuries even where a defect did not cause the crash, but the crash triggered a defective part to malfunction and injure a driver.
The appellate court reasoned there was no rational reason the manufacturer’s liability should be limited to instances where the defect caused the crash. A malfunctioning defective part was a foreseeable risk that the manufacturer should have to assume.
The appellate court ruled that it still remained questionable whether a defective roof design had failed to give the plaintiff adequate protection in the roll-over and whether the safety restraint had a defect that led to the plaintiff being thrown from the car and getting additional injuries.
Accordingly, even if Ford’s allegations about the plaintiff’s negligence were correct, it had failed to prove there were no remaining issues of fact. Because Ford failed to meet its burden, the burden did not shift to the plaintiff to present additional evidence to oppose the motion. The appellate court reversed.
If you are seriously hurt because of a defective component of your vehicle, contact the knowledgeable Florida automobile accident attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.
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