Federal District Court Dismisses Defendant in South Carolina Product Liability Case Due to Lack of Successor Liability

South Carolina product liability lawsuits can be complicated. Not only must the plaintiff prove the elements of negligence, strict liability, or another legal theory of liability, but he or she must also track down the manufacturer, seller, or another party that can be held responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries under South Carolina law – before the running of the statute of limitations (and statute of repose).

Given the frequency with which businesses change hands nowadays, this can be a difficult task. Products made in other countries can present additional issues.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who was hurt on the job while working on an automobile frame straightener that he alleged was “designed, manufactured, packaged, produced, sold, and/or distributed by” the defendant. The plaintiff’s claim, which was originally filed in state court but removed to federal court by the defendant, alleged that the frame straightener was unreasonably dangerous and defective and that he had suffered the partial loss of one of his feet in the work-related accident.

The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that did not design, manufacture, or sell the frame straightener that injured the plaintiff. Instead, the defendant stated that the product was made by another company, which the defendant had purchased in 2005. According to the defendant, the only liabilities of that company that it had assumed in the purchase agreement were a vehicle lease and a postage meter.

Decision of the Court

The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division, granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Phrasing the issue as whether the defendant had successor liability for the products of the company that it purchased in 2005 (and whose product allegedly injured the plaintiff), the court noted that the company purchased by the defendant was formed only a week before the defendant’s purchase. For some 33 years prior to that, the company had been owned by another individual.

The court went on to find that there was no agreement between the company that the defendant purchased and the individual who held the company prior to that purchase regarding the assumption of liability for product defects.  There being no evidence of a fraudulent purpose and the transaction being an arms-length liquidation sale, the court found that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment on the issue of successor liability.

There being “no commonality of ownership at all” and no grounds upon which to find a “mere continuation exception” to the general rule pertaining to successor liability, the defendant was entitled to be dismissed from the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Knowledgeable South Carolina Injury Attorney

Dangerous and defective products can cause debilitating injuries and even a wrongful death. Experienced South Carolina product liability lawyer Patrick E. Knie can help if you or a family member has been hurt by a faulty product. Call us in Spartanburg or Greenville at 864-582-5118 to schedule a free consultation regarding your case. Be sure to speak to an attorney soon, since there is both a statute of limitations and a statute of repose that may place an outer time limit on the time that you have to file your claim. Usually, claims that are not filed within the applicable periods are dismissed on procedural grounds.

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