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Alabama Supreme Court Upholds Summary Judgment for Defendants in Wrongful Death Smoke Detector Product Liability Action

In the recent case of Hosford v. BRK Brands, Inc., the Supreme Court of the State of Alabama considered whether a smoke detector manufacturer could be held liable for the death of the plaintiffs’ daughter, resulting from a fire in the family’s mobile home. The defendant in the lawsuit manufactured two smoke alarms that had been installed in the family’s mobile home prior to when the fire took place. In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that the manufacturer designed the smoke alarms in a defective manner and failed to provide sufficient warnings about the dangers associated with the fire alarms.

During the litigation, the plaintiffs conceded that one of the smoke detectors made an alerting sound at the time the fire began. However, they contended that the alarm did not sound soon enough to ensure that the occupants could exit the mobile home safely, which would have required rescuing their daughter before exiting.

The plaintiffs’ complaint included numerous causes of action against the defendant, including a breach of warranty claim, a failure to warn claim, and a negligence claim. They also asserted a product liability claim, which imposes a strict liability standard on the defendant. At the close of trial, the trial court judge concluded that the plaintiffs had only provided enough evidence to support their product liability claim. The jury deliberated and returned a verdict in the defendants’ favor. The plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiffs contended that the trial court issued numerous rulings that were an abuse of discretion and unfavorable to the plaintiffs. They also alleged that the lower court provided instructions to the jury that were misleading and improper. In determining whether the lower court ruled appropriately that the plaintiffs had only offered enough evidence to support their product liability claim, the Supreme Court of Alabama first reiterated the state’s product liability law. The plaintiff must prove that a reasonable alternative design was available to the defendant at the time it developed the product that posed less of a danger to consumers.

There are many different approaches that states have adopted to product liability lawsuits. In addition to the reasonable alternative design test, some states have adopted a consumer expectations test. This approach requires the plaintiff to show that the product in question was more dangerous than a reasonable consumer would have expected.

Turning to the jury’s verdict, the appellate court reviewed the record and determined that the plaintiffs had not offered enough evidence to show that a safer alternative design was available to the defendants at the time they developed their smoke detector product.

If you have been injured while using a potentially defective product, you may be entitled to compensation. Dangerous products can arise in virtually any situation and can put consumers at serious risk. Representing clients throughout the country, including in Illinois, California, Texas, and Florida, our product liability lawyers have the experience it takes to bring a strong lawsuit against the company responsible for your injuries. To schedule your free, confidential consultation, call us now at 312-462-1700 or contact us online.

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