By David Yucht, J.D.
While statutes of limitations operate procedurally to bar the enforcement of a right to sue, statutes of repose take away the right to sue altogether, creating a substantive right of a seller or manufacturer to be free of liability after a specified time following manufacture or sale.
A state appeals panel in Texas agreed with a lower court’s finding that, based on Texas’s statute of repose, a wrongful death case filed against Ford Motor Co. was time-barred. Consequently, the appellate court affirmed the lower court's order granting summary judgment dismissing the case (Stevenson v. Ford Motor Co., August 3, 2020, Osborne, L.).
On July 26, 2015, a Texas resident was driving a 1999 Ford Explorer in Virginia. The vehicle’s owner and his minor daughter, both Texas residents, were passengers in the Explorer. Allegedly, the driver fell asleep while driving and lost control of the vehicle, causing it to roll over and strike a guardrail. The child was ejected from the Explorer and sustained fatal injuries. On July 26, 2017, the child’s mother filed suit alleging wrongful death claims against Ford based on strict products liability due to a design defect. Ford filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the Texas products liability statute of repose barred the claims. The trial court granted Ford’s motion and the child’s mother appealed.
Repose—choice of law. The appellate court affirmed the lower court. The child’s mother argued that the trial court did not conduct the proper choice-of-law analysis and incorrectly applied the Texas products liability statute of repose rather than the law of Michigan, where Ford was headquartered, or Virginia, where the accident occurred. More over, the mother argued that even if the trial court correctly concluded that Texas substantive law applied, the statute of repose was tolled for the survival claims of the minor decedent. The appellate court held that statutory and policy-related factors showed that Texas had the "most significant relationship" to the claims. Consequently, the trial court did not err when it concluded that the Texas statute of repose applied here. When deciding which state’s law should apply to a suit for injury or death occurring outside Texas, Texas courts apply Texas’s choice-of-law rules. While as a general proposition, Texas applies the "most significant relationship" test, where the Texas legislature has enacted legislation to govern the choice of law, Texas courts will follow the statutory directives of its own state. The relevant Texas statute specifically permits a lawsuit where the wrongful death or injury takes place in a foreign jurisdiction if the law of Texas or the foreign state provides a cause of action, the action is begun within the time provided by Texas law, and the action is begun within the time provided by the laws of the foreign state. Based on Texas law, "a claimant must commence a products liability action against a manufacturer or seller of a product before the end of 15 years after the date of the sale of the product." As related to this matter, the statute of repose prevented the filing of any product liability suit involving the subject vehicle after 2014, a year before the accident occurred.
Repose—tolling. The appellate court also held that the statute of repose was not tolled for the survival claims of the minor decedent. Texas’s statute of limitations contains a provision tolling the running of the limitations period for minors. While statutes of limitation operate procedurally to bar the enforcement of a right to sue, statutes of repose take away the right to sue altogether, creating a substantive right of manufacturers and sellers to be free of liability after a specified time. The appellate court concluded that the Texas legislature did not intend for the tolling provisions, which applied to the statute of limitations, to apply to the products liability statute of repose. The court looked to the plain language of the law as well as the purpose of a statute of repose, which is to provide absolute protection to certain parties from the burden of indefinite potential liability. Even if the tolling provision applied to statutes of repose, it would not have applied here. Although the decedent was a minor at the time of the automobile accident, once she died, she ceased to be a minor, and the tolling provisions of the statute of limitations ceased to apply.
The case is No. 05-18-01535-CV.
Attorneys: Michael W. Balcezak (Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins & Mott, LLP) for Susan Stevenson. Wilson Cates Aurbach (Rodriguez Firm, PC) for Ford Motor Co.
Companies: Ford Motor Co.
MainStory: TopStory SofLReposeNews JurisdictionNews MotorVehiclesNews TexasNews
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