Court Finds That Plaintiff’s Lawsuit Against Truck Manufacturer Failed to Establish Design Defect

A state appellate court recently issued a decision in a product liability case that was filed by the widow of a man who was killed while working at a factory. While New Mexico product liability law differs from that which was applied by the court in this case, the case is still illustrative of how manufacturers can be held liable for products that are defectively designed or manufactured.

According to the opinion, the man worked at a paper plant, where his primary job was to operate a folder gluer. During his employment, he volunteered to train as a lift truck operator. On the day of the accident, a supervisor asked the man to use a lift truck to assist in unloading paper from a truck. After a few trips, the truck became lodged in a gap. The man and a colleague used a tow chain to try to get the lift truck off the dock. The truck had an alarm that was designed to sound if the parking brake was not applied. There were no chocks under the wheels, since they were not available, and the clamp was not lowered. As a result, when the man placed himself between the two trucks, the truck began to roll, and he was ultimately crushed by the impact.

The man’s widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several parties, one being the manufacturer. She argued that the truck was negligently designed, and there was a breach of warranty. She specifically argued that the parking brake was negligently designed. The lawsuit went through several appeals and was ultimately heard by the state supreme court.

The court explained that the state where the accident arose does not use a strict liability theory for product liability cases, so a plaintiff must proceed under an implied warranty or negligence theory. Therefore, the law requires that a trier of fact determine whether an “unreasonably dangerous condition existed when the goods left the manufacturer.” In this case, the court held that the plaintiff did not establish that the over-center brake was unreasonably dangerous. Ultimately, the court found that the plaintiff did not establish a negligent design, and the case was decided in favor of the defendant.

New Mexico Strict Product Liability Claims

Following Brooks v. Beech Aircraft Corp., New Mexico product liability claims can be brought using a strict liability theory. Prior to this decision, similar to the case discussed above, New Mexico design defect cases were only allowed to be commenced under negligence and express warranty theories.

The shift in the law also allowed plaintiffs to pursue a claim under strict liability even if a defendant complied with all pertinent codes and regulations. The court found that although there is a distinction between a manufacturing defect and design defect, New Mexico courts use an “unreasonable-risk-of-injury” test as opposed to comparing the item to a prototype.

Companies have argued that it was unreasonable for them to be liable under the current safety standard for something that was manufactured 50 years ago. However, the court has rejected these arguments, explaining that manufacturers are generally aware of potential risks and available alternatives. Therefore, a strict liability standard is more applicable because it imposes constructive knowledge of the item on the manufacturer. Ultimately, the court found that strict liability could be imposed because the benefits of the doctrine outweighed other considerations.

Have You Been Injured in New Mexico Due to a Negligently Designed Product?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed due to an accident caused by a negligently designed or manufactured product, you should contact the attorneys at the Fine Law Firm. As you can see, there are various ways to pursue a New Mexico product liability claim. An attorney can assist you in determining which parties are responsible and which avenues of relief are available. If you are successful, you may be entitled to compensation for the injuries you suffered. Contact an attorney at the Fine Law Firm at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Safety Standards for New Mexico Truck Drivers, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, March 28, 2018.

Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Plaintiff in Recent Truck Accident Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, March 20, 2018.