A New York state appellate court has ruled that manufacturers of similar products may bear industry-wide liability for one another's products. The court said that a plaintiff must be allowed to prove that companies not directly responsible for a particular accident helped create the safety hazard by, for example, fighting government regulations. If such a role is proven, any company that manufactured a product similar to the one involved in the accident could be compelled to pay damages.
The case involves a wrongful-death suit brought by the widow of a man killed by a multipiece tire rim that exploded when he was inflating a tire. The woman sued Goodyear, Firestone, Budd, and Kelsey-Hayes, all of which make multi-piece tire rims. Goodyear and Budd asked the court to dismiss charges against them because the evidence conclusively showed that their products weren't involved in the accident.
While the court agreed that Budd and Goodyear weren't the manufacturers, it ruled that the plaintiff might introduce evidence that they were part of "an express agreement or tacit understanding" to keep knowledge of the product's defects from the public or to fight government regulation.
Joseph Farrell, Budd's lawyer, told The Wall Street Journal that the decision, if upheld by higher courts, "opens a terrible Pandora's box." John P. Mayesh, a New York liability lawyer unconnected with the case, contends that the decision "means Ford could be liable for an Toyota accident. It creates liability out of mere membership in an industry."