Torts-Products Liability and the Consumer Expectation Test-No Expert Testimony Requiredt

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Long v. TRW Vehicle Safety Sys. Inc., __F. Supp. 2d __, 2011 WL 2457509 (D. Ariz., June 20, 2011)

EXPERT TESTIMONY NOT NEEDED TO PROVE SEATBELTS DEFECTIVE WHERE ORDINARY CONSUMER COULD FORM EXPECTATION REGARDING THEIR SAFETY Plaintiff and plaintiff's decedent were passengers in an SUV when a tire tread separation caused the vehicle to roll. Plaintiffs claimed to have been wearing their seat belts but were nonetheless not restrained during the rollover resulting in death and a severe injury. They were the only two of seven occupants in the vehicle that were severely injured or killed despite being belted. Plaintiffs sued the seat belt manufacturer claiming the belts were defective because they failed to properly restrain the occupants. The defendant moved for summary judgment claiming plaintiffs' expert's testimony was inadmissible and without it plaintiffs could not prove their case. The Arizona District court disagreed holding that in a case such as this where ordinary consumers have developed reasonable expectations as to how a product should perform, jurors may find a defendant at fault without expert testimony. Applying the consumer expectation test, the court found that most consumers use seat belts daily and are familiar with their primary safety related function of keeping belted passengers restrained. Thus here, even without expert testimony a jury could find the defendant liable. Next the district court rejected the defense argument that the intensity and dynamics of the rollover constituted a superseding cause of the injuries. The court held that a superseding cause must be one that is unforeseeable and with the benefit of hindsight could be found to be “extraordinary.” Here, the court found it was reasonably foreseeable that in a tread separation the driver may lose control and the vehicle may rollover and become severely deformed. The defendant need not have anticipated the specific harm that actually follows such an event but only that some harm might very well follow.

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