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Florida Supreme Court Rules on Products Liability Cases

The Florida Supreme Court recently handed down a ruling in a personal injury case that will make a big difference in future personal injury trials. In a products liability case involving the tragic death of the plaintiff, the defendant failed to object to an inconsistent verdict by the jury at the end of the trial. At the time, the defense was under the understanding that due to the nature of a products liability case there was no need to object to an inconsistent verdict, and so they raised the issue on appeal. But the Supreme Court of Florida did not approve of that approach.

Products liability trials usually present two questions to the jury. One involves whether the jury thinks that the defendant’s product was defective, and the other is whether the defendant was negligent in putting the product in the chain of commerce. The problem with this two-prong question approach is that, in most cases, it is legally impossible to be negligent but not have a defective product at the same time. When a jury returns a verdict like this, the defense should object and have the jury fix the inconsistency. That was the issue in this case.

The Tragedy at Issue

This lawsuit is based on a the tragic death of a father who was using a ladder he bought at a home improvement store. The father fell from the 13-foot ladder, and on impact he died. His survivors brought the lawsuit based on the theory that the the ladder had a product defect in it, and that the defect caused his death. The additional theory was that the store was negligent for selling the (alleged) defective product. The survivors sued both the store that sold the ladder (for selling a defective product), and the manufacture of the ladder (for producing a defective ladder).

The Trial

At trial, both sides called experts to testify. The survivors of the victim called an expert who testified that the ladder had a defect in that it tended to malfunction when in a false-locked position. And, as you can imagine, the defense called an expert witness who testified that there was no defect with the product, but it was just used improperly by the victim.

Curiously, the jury split their decision when they handed down a verdict. The jury decided that the store was negligent for selling a defective product, but they said that the ladder was not defective. While it sounds like this should not happen, it does from time to time. When this happens, it is the responsibility of the affected party to object to the irregularity, and send the questions back to the jury to decide. Neither side objected, though, and the defense waited to object in an appeal.

Florida Supreme Court Rules

The Supreme Court changed what was considered settled law when they decided this case. One of the reasons the defense did not object is because Florida appellate courts previously ruled that products liability cases are different when it comes to objecting to split jury decisions such as these. But the Florida Supreme Court threw that line of thinking out and said that from here on out, in all cases, when the jury returns a conflicting verdict a party must object then.

There were several reasons why the Court chose to rule the way it did. For one, raising an objection when the verdict is handed down allows the same jury to go back and fix the mistake. Waiting for an appeal wastes valued judicial resources. And another main reason was that all cases will be treated the same in the future, with no special exceptions for products liability cases.

A Law Firm for All Personal Injury Cases

At Alan Goldfarb, P.A., we represent victims of all personal injury cases in the Miami area. Whether it is a products liability case, car accident, or other type we are prepared to fight. Contact us so we can evaluate your case.

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