Although we expect all products to function as anticipated, that is especially true for those products on which we rely to provide safety during dangerous situations. Indeed, when the risk of harm is high, an equipment failure can lead to truly tragic results. This type of product failure was at the heart of a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Key Safety Sys., Inc. v. Bruner, which involved a product defect in the seatbelt restraint system of a Jeep Wrangler.
This suit centers around a rollover accident that occurred in September 2007. The suit was brought by the husband of the passenger of the jeep, acting as the personal representative of the estate of his wife, who died as a result of the accident. The decedent’s husband owned the vehicle, but it was being driven by his daughter at the time of the turnover. The reasons for the turnover remained unknown. Both the driver and the decedent were apparently wearing their seatbelts, but during the course of the accident the decedent was ejected from the vehicle and sustained various severe injuries, including a loss of body tissue around her upper legs and abdomen. The decedent eventually succumbed to her injuries. The vehicle seatbelt restraint system was designed, constructed, and integrated by Key Safety Systems, Inc. The husband brought suit against Key and various governmental entities, alleging failure to warn, strict product liability, negligence, and failure to recall and/or retrofit. The case proceeded to a trial, after which the jury returned a verdict awarding the plaintiff $4,600,000. The jury apportioned 20 percent of the fault to the decedent’s daughter and 80 percent of the fault to Key. In light of this unfavorable verdict, Key brought an appeal, arguing that the trial court erred by denying its motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict with respect to the failure to warn claim, and by admitting expert testimony regarding certain seatbelt retractor mechanism testing performed by the expert witness and a video of such testing.