Massachusetts Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Paralyzed Woman’s Claim for Relief from Judgment Due to Alleged Fraud by Vehicle Manufacturer in Prior Product Liability Lawsuit

In personal injury and wrongful death cases, there are sometimes multiple theories of liability. In a Cape Cod product liability case, for instance, the plaintiff may allege that the defendant manufacturer was negligent in the design of an unreasonably dangerous product and that the defendant should be held accountable for its failure to warn the consumer of the dangerous propensity of the product in question. These theories are not necessarily inconsistent.

Sometimes, however, a plaintiff may have to decide between legal theories that could be considered inconsistent. A recent case explored the complications that can arise in such situations.

Facts of the Case

In a recent (unreported) Massachusetts Appeals Court case, the plaintiff was a woman who was left paralyzed as a result of a one-car accident. In a previous lawsuit, the plaintiff pursued a product liability claim against the defendant automobile manufacturer (and related entities). Although the plaintiff suspected that the cause of the crash was a sudden loss of steering control and that the defendant had tampered with the vehicle after the accident to make it appear to be in normal condition, she had allowed her former attorney to pursue the claim on a theory that the plaintiff was at fault in the accident but that an airbag malfunction had caused her injuries. That first case resulted in a defense verdict in 2005.

In the second case, the plaintiff sought relief from the 2005 judgment based on fraudulent conduct allegedly committed by the defendant, as well as “fraud on the court.” The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Decision of the Appellate Court

The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint, agreeing with the lower tribunal that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In seeking relief from the prior judgment in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff pointed to a) a deferred prosecution agreement entered into by the defendant in which it admitted to having systematically misled consumers about safety issues and b) a whistleblower lawsuit by a high-ranking official for the defendant in which he alleged that the defendant had intentionally disobeyed discovery orders in over 300 cases; according to the plaintiff, these actions showed a “corporate culture imbued with secrecy and lawlessness.”

The court, however, found that the plaintiff’s allegations were insufficient to raise her right to relief above a speculative level. In so holding, the court stated that the plaintiff had not alleged that the tactics set forth above had actually been used in her case, but only that they might have been. This was insufficient to relieve the plaintiff of the 2005 judgment in her previous case.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Cape Cod Product Liability Lawyer

If you believe that you or a loved one has been a victim of an unreasonably dangerous product, you should discuss your concerns with a knowledgeable Massachusetts product liability attorney. It is very important that you act promptly, since you have only a limited amount of time to file a claim under the Massachusetts statute of limitations and statute of repose for injury and death claims. Call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664 today to schedule a free case evaluation.

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