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Heco v. Foster Motors – Product Liability Claim After Crash

People who are injured as a result of a defective vehicle (or vehicle part) may have grounds on which to assert a successful product liability claim.

This has become an increasingly common plaintiff strategy in recent years, in large part because so many auto manufacturers have been shown to make, market and sell dangerous cars or defective parts. In some cases, motor vehicle industry executives know about the danger their products pose as sold, but do nothing to warn the public of those perils until regulators force their hand.

Most recently, we’ve seen this with the faulty Takata airbags, the dangerous GM ignition switches and Toyota’s rapid and uncontrolled acceleration issues. Each of these problems has led to a host of lawsuits, many of which are still pending.

It’s worth noting the issuance of a recall does not release a company from liability.

Some possible defendants in a case like that may include:

  • The manufacturer
  • The parts manufacturer
  • The auto supply shop or car dealership that sold you the vehicle or part
  • The shipper/middleman/distributor
  • The used car dealership

Even if the allegedly defective car or part didn’t belong to you, if you were injured, you still may have a valid claim.

However, claims for defective product injuries are rarely straightforward. Large companies employ powerful legal teams, and you will need counsel with experience if you hope to move your case forward.

In the recent Vermont Supreme Court case of Heco v. Foster Motors, an injured woman successfully pursued action against a number of defendants following personal injuries she sustained in a rear-end crash.

Medical reports indicated she suffered spinal cord injuries when, upon impact, the back of her seat collapsed backward and, simultaneously, her seat belt failed to restrain her appropriately.

She later filed a lawsuit asserting claims against the seller of the vehicle, the manufacturer of the vehicle, the manufacturer of the driver’s seat and the manufacturer of the seat belt. Her claims were for strict products liability, negligence and breach of warranty.

Breach of warranty can be claimed when a product does not perform as intended/advertised when used reasonably/in a foreseeable manner by consumer.

Plaintiff later settled out-of-court with the seat belt manufacturer, and then also with the car manufacturer and the car seller.

The only claim that remained was that against the manufacturer of the seat.

In her settlement with the seller, she preserved her remaining claim against the seat maker, expressly recognizing her “intent to recover the full value of her injuries” against defendant.

At trial, jurors returned a verdict favoring plaintiff and awarding nearly $37 million in damages, payable by the seat manufacturer.

However, seat manufacturer previously cross-claimed a motion for indemnity against the seller of the vehicle, which the court granted.

Seat maker argued plaintiff had discharged the car seller from a potential claim of vicarious liability separate and independent from its own liability, and the seller couldn’t therefore expect the seat maker to compensate it for the sellers’ own vicarious liability conduct.

The settlement agreement plaintiff reached with the seller indicated a broad discharge of “all claims, known or unknown, foreseeable or unforeseeable, past, present or future arising directly or indirectly out of the vehicle, incident or lawsuit.” That is likely to be interpreted to mean plaintiff discharged seller of any future claim of vicarious liability. Further, seller can’t assert equitable indemnity to compel the seat maker to reimburse for the undisclosed monetary compensation it paid in the settlement.

Preparing for trial and negotiating settlements on these issues can be a complex process, as this case reveals, which is why it’s so important for victims to seek qualified legal counsel.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Heco v. Foster Motors, Jan. 9, 2015, Vermont Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc. – Liability Release Deemed Unconscionable, Jan. 11, 2015, Hollywood Injury Lawyer Blog

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