(251) 299-0101

PRODUCT LIABILITY - YANMAR AMERICA CORP. V. NICHOLS

Yanmar America Corp. v. Nichols, [Ms. 1130214, Sept. 30, 2014] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2014). A Yanmar tractor rolled over and injured Nichols. The tractor was made for the Japanese market but was imported to America as a "gray market" tractor. Nichols argued that Yanmar America Corporation undertook a duty to warn American customers of the dangers of using such tractors in America. After a verdict and judgment for Nichols, Yanmar America appealed. The Supreme Court holds that Yanmar America did undertake such a duty and that the duty extended to Nichols, who did not buy the tractor in question. However, the Court applies the test for voluntary undertaking, focusing on the element requiring that the defendant's "failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm," and holds that Yanmar's failure to do more to warn American customers and users did not increase the risk to Mr. Nichols. The Court concludes that Mr. Nichols "failed to establish by substantial evidence that Yanmar America participated in an activity that increased his risk of harm over any risk of harm that would have existed had Yanmar America chosen not to warn potential users of the gray-market tractors in this case." The Court reverses for entry of a judgment as a matter of law for Yanmar America. This is a plurality opinion with four Justices on the main opinion. Justice Parker expresses doubt "that the 'increases the risk of such harm' standard ... applies to any and all voluntary-warning situations." Justice Murdock concurs in the result, not being persuaded that Yanmar America undertook "a duty to warn any person ... who did not happen upon its Web site postings or actually receive one of its mailings."

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