Texas Appellate Court Stabilizes "Presumption of No Liability" Jury Instruction in Products Cases


In Hamid v. Lexus, et al., the Texas Court of Appeals upheld a take-nothing judgment against a plaintiff on the grounds that a product's risk—not the alleged defect—governs the applicability of a rebuttable presumption jury instruction of no liability if a defendant manufacturer establishes that the product's design complied with federal safety standards and regulations. 2011 WL 7074213 (Tex.App.—Houston [1 Dist.]). The decision provides manufacturers with a clearer picture of the availability of a rebuttable presumption instruction in Texas.

Megan Hamid died when she lost control of a 2002 Lexus ES300 at 9 p.m. on an unlit section of Interstate 45. In attempt to avoid another vehicle parked partially in her lane of traffic, she steered abruptly and failed to apply her brakes, and lost control. Her parents sued Lexus and Toyota alleging the ES300 was defectively designed because it was manufactured and sold without a vehicle stability control device (VSC).

The plaintiffs alleged that the lack of a VSC device in Megan's vehicle was the producing cause of her death. While admitting that a VSC is a safety feature that helps prevent the type of sliding involved in the accident, the defendants based their defense on the fact that the ES300 complied with the various mandatory government safety standards applicable to the vehicle at the time it was manufactured—and therefore entitled to a "presumption of safety" instruction to the jury pursuant to the legislative code.

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