While driving her 2011 Subaru Outback, the plaintiff made a sharp right turn, and the right front fender made brief contact with a tree adjacent to the road. The collision caused only minor damage to the fender and posed no risk of injury or harm to James. She was quickly able to regain control of the vehicle and bring it to a stop in the right lane. Despite the minor contact with the tree, the vehicle’s driver side curtain airbag deployed, striking James in the upper left side of her body and causing serious and permanent injuries. James alleges that the accident was foreseeable to the defendants and that a minor accident that otherwise did not pose a risk of injury or harm to the driver should not have triggered the deployment of the airbag. She further claims that the airbag deployed with excessive and dangerous force. It was foreseeable to the defendants that the unreasonable deployment of the airbag posed an unreasonable risk of harm to drivers, and yet, they failed to warn foreseeable consumers about the danger and risk of harm. The Complaint asserts claims of breach of implied warranty of merchantability (Count 1), negligence (Count 2), and failure to warn (Count 3). Subaru brought a Motion to Dismiss, which was denied.
“The defendants overstate what is required to state a plausible claim for relief. At this stage, a plaintiff is not required to prove her product liability case. In other words, she is not required to put forth evidence of an available alternative design or prove that the airbag deployed with excessive and dangerous force. Nor is she required to provide evidence showing how the airbag was negligently manufactured or designed. In products liability cases, such facts must ordinarily be proved with expert testimony and often require scientific and technical knowledge about the inner workings of a product.
“On the other hand, at the pleading stage, the plaintiff must allege, at minimum, enough facts for the court to conclude that a manufacturing or design defect exists and that the defect proximately caused her injuries. I find that James has met her burden. As to the warranty and negligence claims, she alleges that the airbag is defective because minor, non-dangerous contact should not trigger the deployment of the side curtain airbag. She claims that the accident was minor because it involved only brief contact with the tree, resulting in limited damage to the fender, and never posed a risk of injury or harm. Nevertheless, the airbag unexpectedly and inadvertently deployed with excessive force, fracturing her spine and causing significant and permanent injuries.
“It can reasonably be inferred that the nature of the defect alleged is simply this: the curtain airbag system should not deploy after a minor collision and with such force that it fractures the driver’s spine. James further alleges that the vehicle was in the same condition as when she purchased it new in 2011, and that Subaru never warned Outback owners about the alleged defect. Thus, it is plausible that but-for the defect in the airbag, or the lack of warning about the defect, James would not have been injured by its unexpected and forceful deployment. While the complaint surely would benefit from additional detail, the allegations have sufficiently placed defendants on notice. At this stage, that is all that is required.”
James v. Subaru, No.21-0039, 2022 WL 625091 (W.D.Va. March 3, 2022).
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