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Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis
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Death by Product

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You’ve heard of product liability cases, but what does that actually mean? When a person is injured or killed as a result of a defect in a product, they have a product liability claim against the manufacturer. Such claims differ in various states.

In Alabama, product liability claims are governed by the Alabama Extended Manufacturers Liability Doctrine (AEMLD). Under this law, you have to prove the following in order to have a claim against the manufacturer:

(1) A plaintiff must prove he suffered injury or damages to himself or his property by one who sold a product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the plaintiff as the ultimate user or consumer, if

(a) the seller was engaged in the business of selling such a product, and
(b) it was expected to, and did, reach the user or consumer without substantial
change in the condition in which it was sold.

(2) Having established the above elements, the plaintiff has proved a prima facie case although

(a) the seller had exercised all possible care in the preparation and sale of his
product, and
(b) the user or consumer had not bought the product from, or entered into any
contractual relation with, the seller.

Casrell v. Altec Industries, Inc., 335 So.2d 128, 132-133 (Ala. 1976) and Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So.2d 134, 141 (Ala. 1976); cited in Alabama Tort Law Handbook § 19.1 (Michael L. Roberts and Gregory S. Cusimano).

This law applies to all products sold and placed in the stream of commerce.

Why am I discussing this today? Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, Toyota is involved in a massive recall over unintended acceleration with respect to several models of vehicles which it has sold. Our laws provide that Toyota is responsible for putting defective products out into the public. They made money on these products, and they need to make sure they don’t injure and kill people by doing so.

This law has nothing to do with intent. Many people confuse civil and criminal laws along with the idea of punitive damages. Toyota may not have intended for this defect to be present, but they sold the product so they are responsible for the unintended consequences of injury or death. Punitive damages could be applicable would be if it could be shown that Toyota knew about this defect and disregarded it. Intent is only required in criminal actions.

Toyota is stepping up to the plate and recalling these cars. But, before they did so, they suggested that this was a floormat placement issue and made the public think this was a trivial matter. Unintended acceleration in vehicles is far from trivial, and if individuals and families are injured or killed as a result, Toyota should compensate them accordingly.