Virginia: Car Accidents – a Lawyer’s Convertible

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The Virginia Supreme Court handed down Holiday Motor Corp. v. Walters, Record No. 150391, on September 8, 2016. It reversed a $20,000,000.00 Roanoke jury verdict in a product liability case arising out of a convertible vehicle crash – and rendered final judgment in favor of the defendant vehicle manufacturer, holding “no duty extended to Mazda to design the soft top, including its latches, so that it would provide occupant rollover protection”. Id. at 1, 19, 22.

Holiday Motor reiterated that Virginia rejects the “crashworthiness” doctrine, id. at 13; and observed that “no government or automotive industry safety standards requiring convertible soft tops to provide occupant rollover protection” existed when the vehicle was manufactured or at even exist at present – indeed, that federal regulation continues to “exclude convertibles from its safety standard on roof crush resistance.” Id. at 16-19. “In short, we believe that imposing a duty upon manufacturers of convertible soft tops to provide occupant rollover protection defies both ‘common sense’ and ‘good policy’.” Id. at 18.

Foregoing judicial restraint, Holiday Motor gratuitously concluded in the alternative that the plaintiff expert’s opinion was inadmissible, an abuse of discretion to admit, and independent reversible error, because it was “premised on at least two unfounded assumptions,” i.e., opinions without “evidentiary foundation”. Id. at 19-22. However, Holiday Motor held it unnecessary to reach defendant’s additional arguments that plaintiff “failed to present evidence of an unreasonably dangerous condition or that any such condition proximately caused [her] injury”. Id. at 22 n. 23.