Dealership Not Liable for Alleged Defective Airbag

Plaintiff purchased a 1995 Toyota Corolla from a used car dealership that had previously purchased the vehicle from a Toyota dealership after a trade-in. Months after the purchase, plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident and sustained extensive injuries. Plaintiff’s lawsuit named as defendants the used car dealership that she purchased the car from and the originating Toyota dealership. The suit alleged that the originating Toyota dealership failed to attach a revised airbag warning. The Toyota dealership subsequently filed a Motion for Summary Judgment stating that it owed no duty to warn the plaintiff. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment. The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed, noting that the absence of privity of contract between the Toyota dealer and the plaintiff did not preclude a finding that a duty to warn was owed.

The Louisiana Supreme Court granted writs and reviewed the case based on the standards set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Because the Toyota dealership was a non-manufacturing seller, liability could only be found if the following requirements were met: (1) the product sold was defective; (2) the dealership had actual constructive knowledge that the product was defective; and (3) the dealership failed to warn of the defect. In this case, plaintiff failed to prove the factual evidence of a defect. Evidence indicated that the airbag functioned as designed. The Court also reasoned that from a public policy viewpoint, finding that the Toyota dealership owed a duty to plaintiff would too greatly expand the Louisiana Products Liability Act. The Supreme Court agreed that summary judgment was proper.

Alexander v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.

Patrick J. Babin