Product Liability Claims in Georgia

Product Liability Claims in Georgia

In Georgia, there are two types of product liability claims: strict liability and negligence. Strict liability is governed by statute, while negligence operates under common law. The proof of both claims is similar. The Georgia Supreme Court set out a list of non-exhaustive risk-utility factors to consider in its seminal 1994 decision Banks v. ICI Americas, Inc. Those include the usefulness of the product, likelihood of the danger, the state of the art at the time of manufacturing, awareness of risks, and the feasibility of alternative designs.

To begin this interview, could you please provide an overview of the legal framework for product liability in Georgia? What are the key laws and regulations that govern product liability?

The primary distinction between strict liability and negligence-based product liability claims is when the claims may be brought. In Georgia, strict liability claims are barred if the case is filed more than 10 years after the product’s first sale. A strict liability claim can be barred even before an injury occurs. Negligence claims, however, can still be brought after the 10-year threshold if they meet certain exceptions, including reckless design decisions or failure to warn.

What is the difference between a manufacturing defect and a design defect?

A design defect arises out of the product design, emphasizing that the product was designed in a way that renders it dangerous for its intended use. For example, in the automotive industry, a design defect might manifest if a car’s roof cannot withstand the vehicle’s weight during a rollover, making it unsafe for its foreseeable use.

Manufacturing defects are less common and occur when a product has a sound design, but the manufacturing process introduces flaws that make the product dangerous. For instance, a manufacturing defect in tire production could result in flaws that make the tire more likely to blow out. It basically results in the product being sold in a condition that the manufacturer didn’t intend.

Can a product manufacturer be held liable for its failure to warn about the dangerous properties of its product?

A product can also be defective because it has inadequate warnings. There are two key scenarios in which this liability can arise.

  1. Failure to provide a proper warning: In this situation, the manufacturer is aware of a potential danger or risk associated with the intended use of the product but fails to provide clear and prominent warnings. If a warning is buried in an owner’s manual instead of on the product where it is likely to be seen during use, the manufacturer can be held liable. The science of human factors — how individuals interact with the product — are considered in such cases. Expert testimony is often used to address where a reasonable person would look and what they would understand.
  2. Failure to provide any warnings: Manufacturers can also be held liable if they are aware of a danger but fail to issue any warning at all. In Georgia, there is not a cause of action for the failure to recall a dangerous product, but a manufacturer has an ongoing duty to warn users about dangers in its product even if it learns of the danger after the product is sold.

Can I file a product liability lawsuit even if I had not purchased the product which caused my injury or death of my member?

Yes. The requirement of privity of contract, or direct purchase, has been eliminated. People who are injured by a user of a product can bring claims for product liability if it was foreseeable that the injured party could be hurt. This principle applies in contexts such as auto accidents, where a person driving a defective vehicle may cause harm to others in a crash. I represented a young woman who was badly burned when she crashed her car into a pickup truck with a known propensity to explode when struck on the side. We were able to secure a settlement for her even though she wasn’t even riding in the defective truck. This is also a frequent fact pattern in workplace injuries involving defective machinery. The factory workers are not the machine purchasers, but they are the intended and foreseeable users. We recently represented a factory worker who was injured when a machine he was working on exploded. The fact that he was not the machine purchaser was irrelevant.

In what ways can a product be considered “defective” for purposes of a product liability lawsuit?

  1. Defective in intended use: If the product is not safe when used for its intended purpose, it is defective. That includes situations where a foreseeable accident occurs while using the product, such as a foreseeable car crash.
  2. Defective due to misuse: A product can be defective if it is unsafe when misused, but the misuse must have been foreseeable. The manufacturer should reasonably anticipate potential ways in which consumers might misuse the product, and if that leads to harm, it can be a basis for a product liability claim.
  3. Defective warnings: As discussed, a product also may be defective if warnings are inadequate or missing.

Are there any specific limitations or restrictions with product liability claims?

Like other injury claims, product liability claims in Georgia must generally be filed within two years from the date of physical injury.

As mentioned, in Georgia, product liability claims are also governed by a 10-year statute of repose. If a case is filed more than 10 years after the first sale of the product, a strict liability claim is entirely barred.

A negligent design claim can proceed after 10 years if the claim involves a drug causing a birth defect or where the manufacturer has exhibited a willful, reckless, or wanton disregard for life or property. Older products are evaluated based on the state of the art at the time of manufacture, considering factors such as safety features available during that era. For instance, a Model T without a seatbelt would be judged based on the standard lack of safety measures during its production period in the early 1900s. While the challenge is greater, it is not insurmountable, as we saw in the September 19, 2023 decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Cosper, in which the Georgia Supreme Court made clear that reckless design conduct is enough to except a claim from Georgia’s statute of repose. It requires a nuanced understanding of the legal landscape and a comprehensive approach to presenting evidence. My firm represented a client who was rendered quadriplegic in a rollover in her 12-year-old SUV.  We were able to gather evidence from other manufacturers to show that there were reasonable alternative designs being used at the time of the car’s design that would have strengthened the roof. We also were able to show that the manufacturer knew the roof could fail in rollovers before they sold the car, because it had multiple rollovers with roof failures during the design and testing phase. Despite the car’s age, we were able to resolve the case for a significant amount that will provide for our client’s long-term needs.

Finally, there is no statute of repose for failure to warn of a known danger, and manufacturers have an ongoing duty to warn about dangers in their products, even after they are sold.

What damages can be recovered in a Georgia product liability lawsuit?

Both compensatory and punitive damages are available in product liability cases. Compensatory damages include hard losses such as medical bills, lost wages, property damage, as well general damages for pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. They provide financial redress for the tangible and intangible impacts of the injury.

Punitive damages in Georgia product liability cases are unique, though. The General Assembly capped punitive damages at $250,000 in most cases, so the jury’s decision, the defendant’s economic circumstances, and the egregiousness of its conduct don’t necessarily affect the size of a punitive damages judgment. But the legislature carved out product liability cases from that arbitrary cap with a few caveats. First, if punitive damages are awarded at trial and the manufacturer pays the judgment, 75% of the punitive damage award is paid directly to Georgia. Second, there can only be one uncapped punitive damages judgment paid for each product. If a manufacturer pays a punitive damages judgment, a person injured by that same product can only seek compensatory damages.

Product liability claims also often involve deaths. Wrongful death claims in Georgia involve two types of claims — one brought by the decedent’s estate and one brought by decedent’s survivors. The value of the survivors’ claim is the full value of the deceased person’s life from their own perspective. This unique concept in Georgia considers the individual’s expectations, relationships, and experiences, and requires the jury to value the intangible parts of the decedent’s life.

Georgia also allows spouses to seek damages for loss of consortium. This claim assesses the value of lost spousal services and the impact on the marriage, encompassing both tangible and intangible losses.

About Rob Snyder

Tedra Cannella and Rob Snyder founded Cannella Snyder in 2021 to represent plaintiffs in auto accident, trucking, wrongful death, product liability, and False Claims Act whistleblower cases. They collectively have more than 35 years of experience handling the most serious cases against the world’s largest companies and law firms.

Since the firm’s founding in late 2021, its attorneys have recovered more than $100 million. Collectively with results obtained at prior firms, Cannella Snyder attorneys have collected settlements and judgments for their clients of $400 million. The firm treats each of its clients like family and works tirelessly to hold those at fault accountable for clients’ losses.

Rob Snyder
Founder of Cannella Snyder
315 W. Ponce De Leon Avenue, Suite 885, Decatur, Ga 30030


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