California Court of Appeal Holds Evidence of Industry Custom Relevant in Lawsuit for Compensation Following Car Accident

In a California Court of Appeal case, the court addressed a personal injury lawsuit stemming from a motor vehicle accident.  Having brought claims of negligence, strict products liability, and breach of warranties, the couple suing the car manufacturer appealed the decision of the lower court to deny their exclusion of evidence comparing the vehicle to competitors.  The issue was whether evidence of industry custom and practice is always inadmissible.

Mr. Kim swerved in his 2005 Toyota Tundra while on the highway in order to avoid hitting a car driving in the opposite direction that had crossed over the center line.  He attempted to regain control of his truck, which had veered too far right, but he eventually drove off the highway into an embankment.  The truck rolled, and he suffered serious injuries.

Jae Kim and Hee Joon Kim brought a lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation and other defendants for negligence, strict products liability, breach of warranties, and loss of consortium. They alleged that Mr. Kim’s car accident was due to the failure of Toyota to install electronic stability control or vehicle stability control (VSC).  According to the Kims, Toyota decided to offer VSC as an option and not as standard equipment, making it a design defect.

Before trial, the Kims filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence of the automotive industry custom not to include electronic stability control as standard equipment in pickup trucks.  They wanted to exclude any evidence that Toyota’s design choices were not defective based on the argument they were superior to those of competitors.

The appellate court stated that products liability refers to the liability of a supplier of defective goods or products, and compensation can be pursued under a negligence or strict liability theory.

Evidence of industry practice and custom may be relevant and admissible in a strict products liability lawsuit. The nature of the evidence and the purpose for its admission must be considered.  For example, compliance with industry custom may show a product is safe, while noncompliance may show it is not safe.  It is an outdated theory to assume that evidence of industry custom and practice is never admissible.  Recently, negligence legal rules have been incorporated into strict products liability doctrine.  For example, comparative negligence may apply in certain products liability cases.

The court stated the rule that evidence of industry custom may be relevant to the risk-benefit analysis, and admissible, depending on the nature and purpose of its admission.  The plaintiff or the defendant may seek to offer evidence of industry custom and practice.

In this particular case, evidence that Toyota’s manufacturers attempted to produce a safer alternative design that malfunctioned would be relevant.  The aesthetics of an alternative design, and the appeal or desirability of an alternative design, may be relevant.  However, evidence that all manufacturers design a product the same way would not be relevant, since it does not show the product is not dangerous.  In fact, all manufacturers may be producing an unsafe product.

Since the court struck down the rule stating that evidence of industry custom and practice is always inadmissible, they stated that the trial court properly denied the Kims’ motion to exclude all evidence in this regard.  The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

At Sharifi Firm, our car accident attorneys provide guidance and representation to victims throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation. Consult our office today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Witness Testimony Should Not Have Been Excluded as Evidentiary Sanction, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, December 28, 2015

California Appeals Court Holds Substantial Evidence to Support Contrary Finding Does not Compel Conclusion of Insufficient Evidence Supporting the Judgment, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, December 11, 2015

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