In the recent appellate court decision of Marable v. Empire Truck Sales of Louisiana, LLC, 2016-0867 (La. App. 4 Cir. 6/23/17), the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a $50 million general damage award in a products liability case for a 69 year-old plaintiff who suffered anoxic brain injury and other permanently disabling injuries requiring 24-hour care. Plaintiff was injured when she lost her footing and became pinned underneath the two rear tires of an over-the-road tractor while running alongside the moving tractor attempting to turn the ignition key to shut off its engine. After a six-day trial, the jury returned a verdict finding the manufacturer of the tractor 90% at fault for the unreasonably dangerous design of the tractor, which was a proximate cause of the accident. The jury awarded nearly $11,500,000 for past and future medical expenses and $10,000,000 for past and future physical pain and suffering, $10,000,000 for past and future mental pain and suffering, $10,000,000 for past and future loss of enjoyment of life, and $10,000,000 for scarring and disfigurement. The total verdict was for $51,448,174.77.
The manufacturer appealed, alleging that pursuant to La.R.S. 9:2800.56 of the Louisiana Product Liability Act (LPLA) the plaintiff had failed to prove: (a) that the tractor’s design was unreasonably dangerous because she presented no evidence that the manufacturer could have foreseen the accident, and (b) that the tractor’s design proximately caused her accident.
The court of appeal agreed with the jury’s finding that at the time of the accident, the plaintiff’s husband was performing the required pre-inspection of his tractor before leaving on his trip. As specifically instructed to do in the manufacturer’s driver’s manual, the engine of the tractor was running while he was checking safety features on the outside of the vehicle. The tractor was defective in design because it was not equipped with dual brakes on the rear drive axles – which were available and routinely used by the manufacturer on other models and would have stopped the tractor from moving suddenly, ultimately preventing this accident.