Driver died; no airbag defect shown; dismissal affirmed.

Dawna Casey’s family sued Toyota, alleging that the airbag in a 2010 Highlander did not remain inflated for six seconds and caused her death in an accident.  The district court granted judgment as a matter of law and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.  Casey v. Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, No. 13-11119 (Oct. 20, 2014).

As to the claim of manufacturing defect, the Court observed: “Casey . . . established only that the air bag did not remain inflated for six seconds,” and relied on alleged violations of Toyota’s performance standards to prove a defect (rather than a technical explanation of the bag’s performance).  The Court rejected those allegations under Texas law and precedent from other jurisdictions: “Each piece of evidence submitted by Casey on this point is result-oriented, not manufacturing-oriented, and provides no detail on how the airbag is constructed.”

As to the claim of design defect, Casey relied primarily on a patent application for an allegedly superior design, which the Court rejected as not having been tested under comparable conditions, and as lacking a real-world track record as to feasibility, risk-benefit, and other such matters.  Law360 has written a summary of the opinion.

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