Law School Case Brief
Honda of Am. Mfg. v. Norman - 104 S.W.3d 600 (Tex. App. 2003)
To prove a design defect, the plaintiffs must show, among other things, that (1) there was a safer alternative; (2) the safer alternative would have prevented or significantly reduced the risk of injury, without substantially impairing the product's utility; and (3) the safer alternative was both technologically and economically feasible when the product left the control of the manufacturer. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 82.005(a), (b). The plaintiffs have the burden of demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence that a safer alternative design existed at the relevant time. In addition, plaintiffs complaining of a design defect are required to show that the safety benefits from its proposed design are foreseeably greater than the resulting costs, including any diminished usefulness or diminished safety; that is, that the alternative design not only would have reduced the risk of harm in the instant case, but also would not, under other circumstances, impose an equal or greater risk of harm. If no evidence is offered that a safer design existed, a product is not unreasonably dangerous as a matter of law.
In their products liability suit, parents sued a car's manufacturer and corporation for the death of their daughter, alleging that a design defect in the car's seatbelt was the producing cause of the drowning of the parents' daughter. The daughter had accidentally backed her car off of a boat ramp. The car submerged underwater and the daughter drowned before she could release her seatbelt. The district court awarded the parents $ 38 million in actual damages and denied the corporation's motion for remittitur. The corporation appealed. On review, the corporation contended that the evidence was insufficient to prove causation and a safer alternative design.
Should the corporation be liable for the death of the daughter?
The Court found that there was no evidence that a reasonably safer alternative design existed for the corporation's passive restraint system when the car was manufactured. The parents failed to show that an alternative hip-release design or two-release-button system existed, was technologically and economically feasible, and was safer under relevant circumstances than the seat belt release system present in the daughter's car. Having failed to present such evidence, the parents failed to carry their threshold statutory burden of proving a safer alternative design under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 85.005 (Vernon 1997). Accordingly, the Court held that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury's finding that there was a design defect in the daughter's car.
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