• South Carolina Jury Verdict Against Automotive Manufacturer for Alleged Defective Speed Control Deactivation Switch Will Stand
  • June 17, 2014
  • Law Firm: Sutherland Asbill Brennan LLP - Washington Office
  • After leaving a pick-up truck at a warehouse for the weekend only to return to find the warehouse essentially burnt down for a fire allegedly caused by the truck, a lawn maintenance and pressure washing company brought a products liability case against the pick-up truck manufacturer. The case alleged a flawed design of the speed control deactivation switch, arguing that it was “very foreseeable” that the thin membrane separating the constantly energized electrical component from the flammable brake fluid, could leak and enhance the risk of an engine fire.

    The jury found the automotive manufacturer liable and awarded the truck/warehouse owner $41,000 in actual damages. The intermediate appellate court reversed, finding that the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified to offer an opinion as to whether the manufacturer breached its duty to exercise due care in designing the deactivation switch (and thus finding that the plaintiff had no evidence of the manufacturer’s negligence). The state’s supreme court, however, reversed the intermediate appellate court’s reasoning and held that the expert’s extensive qualifications in electrical engineering related to automobiles was sufficient to enable him to testify to the manufacturer’s exercise of due care. The court explained the expert was a licensed engineer, was a member of multiple professional associations involved in engineering and fire origin, conducted investigations on an electrical component as a possible cause of fire many times in his career, and had previously been qualified as a testifying expert between 50 and 100 times in other cases.