Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a Virginia wrongful death case arising out of a fatal workplace accident. The court was tasked with determining whether the plaintiff’s product liability case against the manufacturer was sufficient as a matter of law. Finding that it was not, the court reversed the award that had been issued in favor of the plaintiff.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was the estate of a factory worker who was killed while using a loading truck manufactured by the defendant. During a busy shift, the employee’s supervisor asked him to operate the lift truck, although the employee had not been certified to do so. The employee was loading bales of paper out of a trailer when the truck got stuck on the inclined ramp into the trailer.
With the assistance of a colleague, the employee engaged the parking brake, got out of the truck, and attached a tow chain to the rear of the truck. However, when the employee was behind the truck, the parking brake failed, and the truck traveled down the inclined ramp, crushing and killing the employee.
The employee’s estate brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer of the truck, claiming that the truck’s operator-adjustable parking brake was negligently designed. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that by allowing the operator of the truck to adjust the parking brake himself – rather than allowing adjustments only to be made by a mechanic – the design of the truck was unreasonably dangerous.
A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, but the trial court reversed the judgment based on the employee’s own negligence. The estate appealed.
The Appellate Court’s Opinion
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s case, albeit on alternative grounds. The court determined that the plaintiff’s case was insufficient as a matter of law, and thus it did not get to the question of the employee’s own negligence.
The court explained that under Virginia law, a product liability plaintiff must provide a safer alternative design to that which was used by the defendant manufacturer. Here, the plaintiff claimed that a parking brake that could only be adjusted by a mechanic would be a safer alternative to the operator-adjustable brake. However, the court disagreed, noting that while a different parking brake may have reduced the chance of this specific type of accident occurring, it would not necessarily result in a safer design overall.
The court explained that one benefit of an operator-adjustable brake is that the brake is more likely to be replaced when needed because it takes less time to perform the required maintenance. If the brake could only be serviced by a mechanic, the court believed that employees in a busy factory would less frequently replace the brake, resulting in the truck being used more often with worn brakes. Thus, since the court found that the plaintiff’s proposed alternative design was not a safer alternative, it affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.
Have You Been Injured by a Defective Product?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to a dangerous or defective product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Maryland product liability lawsuit. At the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers, we represent victims in personal injury and wrongful death cases across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule your free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney today. We will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.
More Blog Posts:
Court Refuses Defense Request for Instruction on Mitigation of Damages in Recent Truck Accident Case, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published March 20, 2018.
Major Truck Accident on Snowy Road Sends 29 to the Hospital, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published March 5, 2018.