Nissan Faces Potential $231M+ Product Liability Verdict Over Allegedly Defective Brakes

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

What Must Be Proven in Product Liability Cases?

In 2012, an elderly driver in an Infiniti QX56 collided with the side of a minivan, tragically causing the deaths of the driver of the van and her two daughters.  Attorneys for the bereaved husband/father have asked a jury to award him as much as $231 million.  They claim that the collision was caused by a brake failure in the Infiniti that resulted from faulty software, and further that Nissan (the parent company of Infiniti) knew that the software could cause brake failures, but didn’t tell the public because they wanted to protect company profits.  Nissan disputes the attorneys’ allegations, claiming that the brakes never failed but in fact the driver mistakenly pressed the gas pedal instead of the brake. With so much on the line, it’s important to know exactly what a plaintiff in a products liability case must be able to prove in order to be successful.

What Types Of Products Liability Claims Are Available In California?

California law recognizes three legal theories under which a manufacturer can be held liable for damages caused by their defective products:

  1. Breach of Warranty
  2. Negligence
  3. Strict Liability

Breach of warranty claims are based on the idea that when the manufacturer produced and sold the product, they had represented (either expressly or impliedly) that the product was safe and appropriate to use for a particular purpose.  If those representations turn out not to be true, the buyer could bring a breach of warranty claim.

Negligence products liability cases stem from situations in which the manufacturer didn’t exercise an appropriate level of care when designing, manufacturing, installing, repairing, or otherwise supplying a product.  

While both of these types of claims are valid products liability cases, they aren’t the type of cases most people think of when they hear “products liability.”  Those cases are usually strict liability cases.

How Do Strict Liability Claims Work?

“Strict liability” is a legal term that means a person will be guilty of committing the offense if they are proven to have done each of the elements of the offense; the person’s thoughts or intentions don’t matter.  For example, speeding is a strict liability offense—if you are going faster than the speed limit, you are guilty.  It doesn’t matter if you knew you were speeding or didn’t know you were speeding, it doesn’t matter if you were trying to speed or not; if you were traveling faster than the speed limit you are guilty.  This is different from claims like negligence, where you need to prove elements such as the defendant’s failure to exercise the amount of care that a reasonable person would use when engaging in a particular activity.  

When Does Strict Liability Apply?

California allows parties to bring products liability cases under a strict liability theory in three types of cases: those alleging the product has a problem with its design, cases claiming a product had a problem when it was manufactured, and cases based on a manufacturer’s failure to properly warn consumers about their product’s potential dangers.  Each type of case has slightly different elements you need to be able to prove to have a successful case.

  • Design Defects
    • The first thing you have to prove in a design defects case is that the defendant either manufactured, distributed, or sold the product.
    • You then need to prove that the product did not perform safely the way an ordinary consumer would expect.
    • You’ll have to prove that you were injured or suffered harm.
    • Finally, you need to be able to prove that the product’s failure to perform safely was a substantial factor in causing your injury or damage.
  • Manufacturing Defects
    • To establish a manufacturing defects case, first you have to prove that the defendant actually produced the product.
    • You also have to prove that the product possessed a manufacturing defect when it left the defendant’s possession.  A product has a manufacturing defect if it is different from either the manufacturer’s design or from other “normal” units from the manufacturer.
    • You’ll need to be able to prove you were injured or otherwise suffered damages.
    • Finally, you need to be able to prove that the defect was a substantial factor in causing your injury or damage.
  • Failure to Warn
    • Like design defects, to establish a failure to warn case you’ll need to prove the defendant either manufactured, distributed, or sold the product.
    • You have to prove that the product had potential risks that the defendant could have known about when they manufactured, distributed, or sold it.
    • You’ll need to prove the potential risk created a substantial danger when using the product.
    • You also have to prove that ordinary consumers would not have been able to recognize the potential risk from the product.
    • You need to show that the defendant didn’t provide an adequate warning to consumers about the potential danger.
    • Again, you have to prove that you were injured or suffered other harm.
    • Finally, you’ll need to prove that not being warned was a substantial factor in causing your injury or harm.

As you can tell, products liability cases can be complicated.  If you’ve been injured by a defective product, you should speak with an attorney who specializes in products liability.  Our attorneys focus on these types of cases and have years of experience protecting our clients’ rights.  If you have questions or need help, please contact J&Y Law today for a free consultation.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.