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White v. Mazda Motors of America: On Defective Manufacturing Claims in Car Accident Cases

Our Boston attorneys who represent clients injured by defective vehicles understand the importance of using an expert witness.

car-fire-1267612-m.jpgIn White v. Mazda Motors of America, Inc., a case from the Supreme Court of Connecticut, plaintiff’s car caught on fire a month after he purchased it. According to court records, plaintiff was driving home after working the night shift. He had owned the car for the past month and had driven to and from work each day during that month, putting a total of 2800 miles on the car.

While driving home, he began to smell gasoline coming from the car. He pulled over and got out of the car. Everything else seemed normal, and the gauges and dashboard lights were reading as normal. When he inspected the engine, he saw a bright flash, and the car burst into flames. Plaintiff fell backwards in reaction to the explosion, and, while he luckily was not burned, he did injure his knee when he fell to the ground.

At this point, the engine was on fire, and he called the local fire department. Firefighters were able to extinguish the burning car and treat plaintiff for his injuries.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the automaker and claimed that a defect in the fuel delivery system caused the fire that ultimately caused his fall and his knee to be injured. He also claimed that the fall caused further pain and suffering to a preexisting injury in his knee.

In the complaint, plaintiff included a detailed set of allegations that describe how the defects cause the fire, including a defectively designed set of clips that hold the fuel line in place.

Prior to trial, plaintiff disclosed the name of an expert witness he intended to use at trial. Defendants deposed plaintiff’s expert, who testified during his testimony that the defective fuel clips were the cause of the fire. He was proposed as an expert fire investigator and testified that he tracked the location of the fire to the clips, but he was not an automotive expert and could not form an opinion on whether the car was defective.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, demanding that the case be dismissed on grounds that plaintiff had alleged a specific mechanical defect in his complaint, and his expert was not qualified, and, when asked, declined to form such and opinion. Defendant also asserted that plaintiff failed to establish that the car fire was the proximate cause of his injury, due to the preexisting condition.

Plaintiff filed an opposition to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, asserting that the expert witness was properly qualified to testify on these matters, but the trial court ultimately granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed that case.

On appeal, the court addressed the issue of whether the plaintiff could prevail in this case without the use of an expert witness. Plaintiff claimed that a fire in a car is so obviously the result of a manufacturing defect that the jury could make a finding of liability absent the testimony from a qualified expert.

Ultimately, the state supreme court concluded that plaintiff had never asserted an obvious defect theory prior to the appeal and could not rely upon it during the appeal.

If you are injured in an accident in Boston, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment: 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

White v. Mazda Motors of America, September 27, 2014, Connecticut Supreme Court

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“Road Gators” Pose Highway Hazard to Motorists in Boston, September 14, 2014, Boston Car Accident Lawyer Blog