Arizona Supreme Court building
PHOENIX -- The Arizona Supreme Court could shortly overrule a recent product liability decision that had the state's personal injury lawyers howling.
The state's Supreme Court agreed last week to review a lower court decision that would no longer allow all parties in a distribution chain to be sued equally in a defective-product suit. The court will likely deliver a verdict in mid-summer.
In State Farm Insurance v. Premier Manufactured Systems (CA-CV 04-0465) the Arizona Division 1 Court of Appeals ruled that the Arizona legislature's principles of comparative fault apply to distribution chains in such suits.
State Farm wanted all participants in the chain to be held "joint and severally liable" for a plaintiff's damages over a defective kitchen water filter.
But the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a lower court decision to allocate comparative damages between the product's seller and the defective-part supplier.
"State Farm's argument that the parties in the chain of distribution must be treated essentially as a single unit ... conflicts with the legislature's directive that all types of fault, including strict liability and products liability, must be compared," wrote Judge Patricia K. Norris.
Arizona personal injury lawyers like Scottsdale-based Geoffrey M. Trachtenberg of Levenbaum and Cohen vented at the ruling, calling it "an awful decision."
The ruling greatly shrinks the potential target range for personal injury lawyers considering a product liability suit.
"This decision was extremely ill-conceived and contrary to the intent of the comparative fault statutes," Trachtenberg wrote in a recent blog posting on Scottsdale Personal Injury Lawyer.
"We look forward to hearing from the Supreme Court who, we hope, will provide some clarity on the application of the comparative fault statute."