Bryant Flury alleged that he was injured when his air bag failed to open. He brought suit against the manufacturer of the truck he was driving at the time of the one vehicle accident. He won a $250,000 jury verdict.
The manufacturer appealed on several grounds, including that the subject vehicle was destroyed before the manufacturer had an opportunity to inspect it. The vehicle had been stored at Flury’s home but State Farm, the vehicle’s insurer, had taken the vehicle from the home and sold it for its salvage value.
The trial judge told the jury that if it found that the plaintiff was responsible for the loss of the vehicle a rebuttable presumption arose that the vehicle was not defective. The 11th Circuit reversed the verdict, saying that the loss of the vehicle was the sole fault of the plaintiff and that the only appropriate sanction was dismissal of the action.
You should know that the plaintiff’s lawyer told the manufacturer about the incident but did not give them permission to inspect the vehicle. Also, the manufacturer was not told that the vehicle was going to be destroyed.
Bottom line: this is one of the strongest opinions I have seen on this subject. You can be sure that this opinion will be used by defendants in cases around the country. This opinion will also be used to argue that a case should be dismissed if the product is destroyed before the plaintiff got a lawyer.
If you get a products case secure the product! Do not allow any sort of destructive testing or other alteration of the product while it is under your watch. Instruct the people holding the vehicle not to alter it in any way. And if you are asked to take a products case where the product is already gone, reject the case unless you can come up with a rational argument that the absence of the product does not hurt the ability of the defendant to defend the case.