Products Liability Law Daily Vehicle owner sues Jaguar after losing thumb in motorized, self-closing door
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Monday, June 10, 2019

Vehicle owner sues Jaguar after losing thumb in motorized, self-closing door

By Georgia D. Koutouzos, J.D.

Automaker’s technology allegedly is defective in that it lacks a feature to reverse course when sensing an obstacle in its path.

A man whose right thumb was severed when it was caught in the self-closing door of his Jaguar XJRL filed suit against the automaker and its parent corporation in New Jersey federal court, alleging claims for, among other things, product liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. The vehicle’s self-closing door technology is inherently defective in that it lacks basic safeguards, including sensors, to avert the likelihood of personal injuries when the electric motor is triggered and the sensor latches the door shut, his lawsuit alleges (Levy v. Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC, June 6, 2019).

The owner of a Jaguar XJRL severed most of his right thumb when the motorized door of his parked and immobile vehicle allegedly closed on his thumb. Certain Jaguar-branded vehicles—including the at-issue XJRL model—feature a technology known as Soft-Close Automatic Doors (SCAD) that detect an attempt to close the door and respond by automatically closing the door with the purpose of reducing and/or minimizing the slamming of the door. On vehicles with SCAD, once the latch catches the handle, an electric motor is switched on that pulls the door firmly, with a noise that is barely noticeable, to securely complete the door closure.

The injured man and his spouse filed suit against the vehicle manufacturer, Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC and Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. (collectively, "Jaguar"), as well as their India-based parent corporation, Tata Motors, Ltd., contending that the SCAD feature creates a danger apart from that typically expected from a non-motorized vehicle door in that a SCAD-equipped door can unexpectedly self-activate and that, once activated, the door does not detect objects in its path of closure such that an ordinary person is unable to stop the force of the closure by his or her own strength such that the closing force of a SCAD-equipped door is capable of severing a body part trapped during the closing process.

According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, unlike Jaguar’s automatic power-windows and trunk doors—which have a built-in sensor that automatically prevents the risk of injury when an object or body part is lodged in their path by automatically reversing themselves—the SCAD technology is inherently defective in that it lacks basic safeguards, including sensors, to avert the likelihood of personal injuries when the electric motor is triggered and the sensor latches the door shut.

Failure to warn. The plaintiffs assert that Jaguar and Tata had a duty to warn consumers about the hidden defects and dangers associated with using the SCAD-equipped vehicle doors, and/or using the soft-closing mechanism that the automaker and its parent were aware or should have been aware can cause injury, at the time the vehicle, its doors, and/or the soft-close mechanism left the manufacturer’s control. The automaker breached its duty to warn the vehicle owner of the danger that the latent defect in its products could cause any of its SCAD-equipped car doors to automatically close, without any sensor or other preventative safety measures to protect against the owner’s finger, hand, or other appendage from sustaining serious injuries.

Manufacturing and design defect. The automaker designed, distributed, manufactured, marketed, and/or sold the vehicle, one or more of the vehicle’s doors, and/or the soft-close technology utilized by the consumer at the time of his injury, in a condition such that the soft-close mechanism, the vehicle’s soft-close doors and/or the vehicle as a whole was rendered dangerous, unsafe, and defective in its manufacture. Therefore, the vehicle contained manufacturing defects that were materially different from the automaker’s designs or specifications for the reasonably safe use of the vehicle.

Furthermore, the subject vehicle, its SCAD mechanism, and/or one or more of the vehicle’s soft-close doors were designed in a defective manner and thus were not reasonably fit, suitable, or safe for their intended purpose. At the time the subject vehicle left the control of the manufacturer, there was a practical and feasible alternative design that would have prevented the harm without substantially impairing the reasonably anticipated or intended function of the SCAD door. As such, the defective design was a substantial factor in causing the vehicle owner’s injury.

Negligence. Jaguar had a duty to properly manufacture, inspect, distribute, market, maintain, supply, provide warnings for, prepare for use, and sell the subject vehicle with its SCAD technology. The automaker knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, that the subject vehicle with its SCAD technology was of such a nature that it was likely to injure a user if it was not properly manufactured, inspected, distributed, marketed, sold, and provided with proper warnings. Nevertheless, the company negligently and carelessly manufactured and supplied the vehicle with its SCAD technology, and knew that the vehicle was dangerous and unsafe for the use and purpose for which it was intended. Despite the fact that the automaker knew or should have known that its SCAD technology was capable of causing serious injuries, Jaguar failed to fully disclose the known or knowable dangerous risks associated with the vehicle and, in so doing, acted with a conscious disregard of the vehicle owner’s safety.

Breach of warranty. The automaker’s vehicles and SCAD technology were expressly warranted to be safe for use by the vehicle owner and other members of the general public. Those warranties and representations were untrue in that the SCAD technology caused severe injury to the vehicle owner, was unsafe and, thus, was unsuited for the use for which it was intended. In addition, Jaguar impliedly warranted to the vehicle owner that its SCAD technology was of merchantable quality and safe for the use for which it was intended. Furthermore, the vehicle, vehicle doors, and the soft-close mechanism utilized in connection with those doors are "consumer products," as that term is defined pursuant to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which expressly provides that "a consumer who is damaged by the failure of a supplier, warrantor, or service contractor to comply with any obligation... or under a written warranty, implied warranty, or service contract, may bring suit for damages and other legal and equitable relief."

Accordingly, the injured man and his wife are demanding a jury trial and are seeking judgment against Jaguar and Tata in such an amount of compensatory and punitive damages as a jury deems reasonable, plus costs.

The case is No. 2:19-cv-13497-JMV-MF.

Attorneys: Jared Widen (A. Cohen Law Firm, P.C.) for Theodore J. Levy and Helaine A. Levy.

Companies: Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC; Jaguar Land Rover Ltd.; Tata Motors Ltd

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