Monday, March 25, 2013

Trull v. Volkswagen of America, Inc. case brief

Trull v. Volkswagen of America, Inc. case brief
761 A.2d 477 (N.H. 2000)

At request of plaintiffs in crashworthiness case against defendant automobile manufacturer, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified question of whether, under New Hampshire law, in design defect, enhanced injury crashworthiness cases, burden of apportionment of injuries shifted to a defendant once a plaintiff had proved causation.

OVERVIEW: After family members suffered severe injury and death in an accident involving a van manufactured by defendant, plaintiff parents brought a federal diversity action alleging their sons' injuries were enhanced by inadequacy of lap seat belts.

In response to a federal appeals court's certified question regarding New Hampshire law, the court announced the rule that, in crashworthiness cases involving indivisible injuries, plaintiffs had to prove that a design defect was a substantial factor in producing damages over and above those which were probably caused as a result of the original impact or collision.

Once the plaintiff made that showing, the burden shifted to the defendant to show which injuries were attributable to the initial collision and which to the defect.

-In crashworthiness cases, where the injuries sustained are separate and divisible, the burden of proof remains solely upon the plaintiffs, including the burden of proving enhancement, i.e., the plaintiffs must prove which of the several injuries are attributable to the manufacturer's defective product and the degree of enhancement occasioned by the product as distinguished from the injuries flowing from the third party's acts of negligence.
-The question of actual apportionment of damages among several causes is one of act for the jury. In essence, the normal principles of torts apply.

OUTCOME: The court remanded after responding that once a plaintiff's injuries were established or stipulated as indivisible, and once the plaintiff proved that a design defect was a substantial factor in producing enhanced injuries, the burden of proof shifted to the defendant to apportion damages between causes.

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