Products Liability Case Dismissed for No Injury

It’s been a tough year for Toyota. The automaker has built a strong reputation based on quality craftsmanship, but plaintiffs’ lawyers keep piling on, filing suits like the one described here, accusing Toyota of ignoring acceleration problems for years. So far, however, the allegations regard economic loss: “The revised lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Southern California on behalf of nearly 40 consumers and businesses for claims of economic losses, including diminished vehicle values, stemming from complaints of Toyota cars racing out of control.”

Plaintiffs may be better off in California, because the District of Utah granted Toyota’s Motion to Dismiss in a similar case, Winzler v. Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., No. 1:10-CV-00003, 2010 WL 3064364 (D. Utah Aug. 3, 2010). In Utah at least, a plaintiff must suffer some kind of injury before recovering money from a defendant. Winzler brought an action based on her 2006 Toyota Corolla. Incredibly, “Ms. Winzler does not claim that she has suffered any problems with the engine in her car.” She alleged that she has been injured because she did operate the car, and such operation exposed her to increased risk of personal injury. Or, I could have been injured, thankfully I was not, please pay me some money anyway. One of the quotes attributed to Winston Churchill is “The greatest thrill a man can experience is to be shot at and missed.” For some reason, plaintiffs do not agree and instead ruminate on the misfortune of not having been injured. It’s a shame really. All of these uninjured people walking around thinking about what they’re life had been like had they been injured.

You might guess that the District of Utah dispensed with the case quickly. To the court’s credit, it reasons through the law, rather then simply saying something like, “Every first year law student knows that you need an injury to recover.” Instead the court reasons why the cases cited by the plaintiff in support for her argument, alleging constitutional violations, have a different analytical framework than your average products liability action. Neither may Winzler recover for her supposed economic damages. In short, the Court noted that a plaintiff must suffer an injury to recover under a products liability, negligence, or breach of warranty theory. Because Winzler did not allege that her car has shown any defect, her suit was dismissed.

Coming back to the California case, it should be interesting to see what the different sovereigns allow in the forms of product liability claims. I imagine the plaintiffs’ lawyers have this figured out, and a great deal of forum shopping has already or will take place. Hopefully Toyota can dispatch with these types of cases quickly and move to the cases where there may actually have been an injury.

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