A $10 million verdict in favor of a man injured by a vehicle that was defectively designed has been reversed by the New York State Court of Appeals, which remanded the case for a new trial.
New York City negligence attorneys understand the biggest problems cited by the state’s highest court related to faulty jury instructions, which led to a verdict that seemingly conflicted with itself.
Essentially, the trial court in Reis v. Volvo Cars of N. Am. applied jury instructions that are reserved for malpractice actions, not defective design litigation.
The jury was asked to decide whether the defendant vehicle manufacturer was liable for negligent design and also for defective design. The court indicated these are essentially the same two charges, though no one pointed out this redundancy at trial. The jury returned a verdict that indicated the defendant was liable for negligent design, but not defective design. This discrepancy was not addressed before the jury was dismissed.
A key issue on appeal was whether the instruction to the jury had created an erroneous standard to which the defendant/manufacturer was held. The state court of appeals answered in the affirmative.
According to court records, this case arose out of a 2002 incident involving a 1987 model vehicle. A friend of the plaintiff was showing him the vehicle, which he had recently purchased. The plaintiff and the friend were standing in front of the vehicle, a manual transmission car, gazing under the hood. The friend asked if the plaintiff wanted to see what the engine looked like while running, and the plaintiff answered yes. The friend then walked over to the driver’s side door, leaned into the vehicle and turned the key in the ignition. At the time, the vehicle was in the forward gear. This action sent the car lurching forward and pinned the plaintiff against a wall, ultimately causing him to require a leg amputation.
The plaintiff alleged the manufacturer was liable because this particular scenario was known to the automobile industry at the time the vehicle was made. Further, many others in the auto industry averted this problem by installing a $5 device called a starter interlock. The defendant in this case chose not to install the devices. The plaintiff argued the company should have done this, or in the alternative, warned consumers about the issue.
The manufacturer moved for a summary judgment, which was denied. The manufacturer appealed that ruling, but the case went to trial while review on that issue was pending.
The jury was presented evidence that other manufacturers installed these devices, and jury instructions asked whether the company failed to meet the industry safety standards, as an entity with special skill, training and knowledge on such matters.
The jury answered yes. The problem is that the instructions mirrored those given in malpractice cases, wherein the industry standard is intrinsic in proving liability. However, the appeals court later ruled, the standard should have been whether a reasonable person may have done the same.
This oversight, the court found, resulted in a verdict that was conflicting.
Subsequently, the appellate court granted the manufacturer’s summary judgment on the failure to warn claim – of which the jury had found the manufacturer liable. That matter, as far as the appeals court was concerned, was considered closed without a proper appeal specifically on that issue – which wasn’t done.
Therefore, only the question of a negligent design will be considered at the new trial.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Reis v. Volvo Cars of N. Am., July 1, 2014, New York State Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Wittorf v. City of New York – City May be Negligent for Failure to Warn of Road Defects, June 18, 2014, New York City Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog