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Georgia courts apply a risk-utility analysis to claims that a product was designed defectively. The fact-finder may consider a number of factors, including the usefulness of the product, the gravity and severity of the danger caused by the design, the avoidability of the danger, the efficacy of any warnings, the ability to eliminate the danger without impairing the product's usefulness, and the user's ability to avoid the danger. Moreover, the weighing of these factors is generally a question for the jury.
In 1997, appellant’s deceased wife, Carolyn Bryant, was treated for cardiac problems, including hypertension and atrial fibrillation, by appellee Dr. Harold D. Carlson. In connection with that treatment, appellee doctor prescribed a number of medications, including a beta-blocking drug. He also prescribed a heart medication that appellee pharmaceutical manufacturer Hoffmann-La Roche had recently placed on the market. The deceased took the beta-blocking drug twice, that same day, she also took for the first time, the heart medication. In the afternoon, she was found at the bottom of the stairs in her home and was later determined that she suffered severe brain injuries. Appellant husband Clyde C. Bryant subsequently brought this suit asserting claims of negligence, breach of warranty, strict liability, and loss of consortium against appellee Hoffmann-La Roche and alleged that his wife's injuries were linked directly to the use of its drug and its interaction with other medication. The trial court, without explanation, granted appellee manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment as to all of appellant's claims. Appellant appealed that ruling as well as the trial court's order granting the defendant’s motions in limine to exclude the testimony of his expert witnesses.
Did the trial court err in granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to all of appellant’s claims and for excluding the testimony of the appellant’s expert witnesses?
The appellate court held that the appellant’s claims were not preempted by federal law. Although state courts were divided on the law which governed liability for the manufacture of pharmaceutical products, courts in Georgia applied a risk-utility analysis to such claims. The court further held that the expert testimony that the appellant offered to prove his claim that the drug his wife took was defectively designed was sufficient to raise a question of fact. Hence, the trial court erred by granting appellee manufacturer's motion to preclude the appellant’s expert witnesses from testifying. Also, the court found that the trial court erred by dismissing the appellant’s claims that the drug was defectively designed and that the warnings that the appellee provided were inadequate. However, the court found that since appellant did not state a claim for breach of warranty under Georgia law, the trial court's judgment dismissing that claim was correct. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the appellant’s claim for breach of warranty but reversed the trial court's judgment dismissing the appellant’s claims alleging defective design and failure to provide proper warnings. The trial court's ruling that the appellant’s expert witnesses were not qualified to testify was likewise reversed.