Top state court hears personal injury claim in product case

A product liability case in a Georgia state action will be handled and decided much like similar product cases that are litigated throughout the country. Such claims generally are decided by application of the doctrine of strict liability in tort; however, negligence and warranty principles can come into play. A worker's estate in another state sued PACCAR Motors Co., the maker and provider of a "glider kit" that contains the actual components to assemble a full semi-tractor trailer. The estate sued for wrongful death and personal injury damages on behalf of its decedent, who was a worker on a construction site.

The employer, W&W Transport, ordered the kit from PACCAR and assembled the truck. The truck was taken to a utilities plant that was under construction. The driver backed it up without seeing a construction foreman, who was killed. The driver could not see the worker, apparently because the kit sent by PACCAR did not have a rear window or backup camera.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of PACCAR and against the plaintiff. An appeals court reversed and held PACCAR was responsible for the product's defective design. The Supreme Court of Indiana recently heard oral argument on the case. PACCAR's main argument was that the kit was an incomplete product as authorized by federal regulations, thus liability was switched to the final manufacturer. PACCAR argued that only the final manufacturer could configure the truck to its ultimate work environment.

The other side argued that the product was defective when it left PACCAR's control because that company provided a kit without safety features, including for backing up the truck safely. The state supreme court will issue an opinion now that oral argument is completed. Query whether the court may hold both parties jointly liable for personal injury claims in that each of the two manufacturers should have known that it turned over an unreasonably dangerous and defective product that presented a danger to those persons who would use the truck and others in harm's way. The same issues and principles of law would be involved if the case was litigated in Georgia.  

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