Blank v. Garff Enterprises Inc., 2021 WL 221894 (Utah Ct. App. 2021)

Court affirms trial court’s granting of partial summary judgment and directed verdict as plaintiffs did not present expert testimony of the alleged defect and causation of the alleged injuries.

The plaintiffs’ were driving their 2008 Mercedes SUV when the vehicle was rear-ended by a BMW vehicle traveling over 100 miles per hour and being operated by an intoxicated driver. The collision resulted in the death of one of the BMW’s passengers. The force of the impact and multiple collisions caused the SUV’s passenger-side curtain airbag and driver-side front airbag to deploy. The SUV also partially rolled over and partially tipped on its side before righting itself. The plaintiffs sustained serious injuries.

In bringing suit against the vehicle manufacturer, distributor and seller for negligence, strict product liability and loss of consortium, they claimed the injuries had been enhanced due to the presence of defects related to the vehicle’s airbag system and the sensor system built into the driver and passenger seats. However, the plaintiffs failed to present any expert evidence to support their theory that a defect on the driver’s side of the SUV caused the plaintiff’s enhanced injuries.

The plaintiffs argued that, even without expert testimony, there was a question of fact as to whether, in the absence of a defect, the driver-side curtain airbags should have deployed during the partial rollover. There were complex issues in the case, involving “issues related to the forces necessary to trigger [airbags], when they should trigger, and when they should not trigger lest they themselves cause injury to vehicle occupants are complicated engineering issues that are not within the knowledge or experience of average jurors.”

The plaintiffs also failed to produce expert testimony as to the issue of causation. Without expert testimony on causation, the fact-finder is invited “not to simply infer that the impact caused his injuries but to speculate as to which injuries it caused.”

The court, in affirming the trial court’s granting of partial summary judgment and directed verdict to the defendants, found that expert testimony was necessary to establish a causal connection between the claimed defect in the driver-side airbag and the plaintiff’s alleged enhanced injuries.


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