Injury litigation involving numerous defendants can get complicated with respect to fault. Generally, each defendant in an injury lawsuit will be expected to pay damages in accordance with their percentage of fault.
Serious truck accident, car accident and personal injury lawsuits with numerous defendants require the assistance of an experienced injury attorney. Consider the recent case of Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. Burden, recently before the Alabama Supreme Court.
According to court records, the incident in question involved a vehicle fire in which plaintiff’s were injured. The truck that caught fire had been purchased from defendant’s dealership. Plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit under the state’s extended manufacturer liability doctrine; the claim asserted negligent design and manufacturing, breach of implied warranties and failure to warn of inherent danger. Plaintiff’s wife filed a loss of consortium claim.
The vehicle manufacturer and a repair shop, also a named defendants in the case, responded and generally denied the claims. So too did the dealership. The dealership filed a cross-claim against one of the manufacturers, alleging they had wrongly refused to indemnify the dealership.
The manufacturer and repair shop asked the trial court to dismiss the allegations pertaining to negligent and wanton design and manufacture as well as the one under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine, arguing both of these required expert witness testimony to survive summary judgment. Plaintiff had not presented expert witness testimony. Plaintiff offered no objection to this, but instead persisted with the other claims. Those two defendants then entered into a settlement with plaintiffs, agreeing to pay them a total of $52,000. These settled the breach of warranty claims and those filed under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
Soon after, the dealership moved the court for a summary judgment on the remaining claims against it. Defendant argued:
- On the negligent failure to repair and failure to warn claims, it had never undertaken the duty to repair the vehicle;
- Expert witness testimony was required to show the cause of the fire that destroyed the truck and injured the plaintiff;
- Plaintiff had previously admitted expert witness testimony establishing the cause of the fire was unavailable.
Trial court denied that motion. Trial court also severed the claim of indemnification against the manufacturer.
Evidence was presented at trial indicating plaintiff had purchased numerous vehicles from defendant dealership before buying this one. Soon after, he began noticing a distinct smell in the truck cabin that would come and go. It occurred roughly 100 times and he would occasionally check the hood to see if he could spot the source. When he took the car into the dealership for an oil change about four months after purchase, he asked the technician to look for the source of the burning smell. The oil change technician told him he could find nothing that might be causing the issue.
Later on the same day, plaintiff was driving to visit his father when the service engine light came on and he again noted the burning smell. This time, the odor smelled like something very hot. Plaintiff decided to have the truck inspected and he stopped at a repair shop at another dealership on the way to his father’s hose and asked them to take a look. The service crew said they could find nothing that would be causing a burning odor.
Two months later, plaintiff again returned to the original dealership and complained of the burning odor. The dealership did find steering fluid was leaking, so that was fixed. However, it did not alleviate the smell. He returned three months alter, and again complained of the smell. Still, the dealership found nothing wrong. Same thing a few weeks later. At that time, the technician told him to bring it in when the smell was active.
A few months later, the burning smell started again. It was about 1 p.m., and plaintiff drove directly to the dealership. The service department told him they did not have time to look at it. He could leave it, but the dealership did not loan vehicles and plaintiff had to get to work.
He left for work and worked until about 2 a.m. the next morning. Upon returning home, the burning odor started again. The hazard lights started blinking and smoke emanated from the dashboard. The horn started blowing, he lost power steering. He then realized he lost control of the brakes. The heat was intense and he tried to open the doors. The doors wouldn’t open. Smoke began to fill the cabin, and he started to panic. he tried to smash the driver’s side window, but was unable. He was traveling approximately 35 mph. He threw the transmission into park and the truck started to slow. It was only then plaintiff’s doors would open, allowing him to jump out.
The truck became engulfed in flames. Paramedics arrived and transported plaintiff to the hospital for breathing trouble.
At the close of the trial, defendant moved for a judgment as a matter of law. Trial court denied and entered a judgment against dealership in the amount of $132,500.
Defendant appealed, arguing plaintiff failed to establish the dealership breached its duty to discover and repair a dangerous condition that proximately caused the fire. Specifically, the defendant argued the plaintiff failed to present any substantial evidence that the dealership did something or failed to do something that would violate acceptable care standards in diagnosing the burning odor. There was no evidence presented as to what procedures or techniques the dealership should have undergone.
The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with defense and reversed.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. Burden, May 6, 2016, Alabama Supreme Court
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