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DEFENDANTS' Product liability - Alleged defective design and manufacture of ATV - Fatal rollover when operated by highly inebriated operator - Alleged dram shop liability.

U.S. District - Trenton County, NJ

This case involved the death of a 41-year-old decedent. The plaintiff maintained that the ATV was defectively designed as it suffered from lateral instability and was prone to rollover. The plaintiff further claimed that the ATV was defectively designed as it failed to incorporate an occupant safety restraint system consisting of a roll cage and seat belt. Finally, the plaintiff maintained that the ATV was defectively manufactured due to a claimed throttle cable routing installation error that resulted in an unexpected acceleration of speed. While passing through a relatively flat and straight stretch of the path, the decedent lost control of his ATV and crashed. The defendant vehicle manufacturer denied that any defects in its product existed at the time of the accident or caused injuries leading to the death.

This defendant contended that the ATV, at the time of its inspection, revealed no evidence suggesting proof of an unintended throttle actuation. The defense was also successful in precluding plaintiff’s use and display of the ATV at trial after a Rule ________ hearing demonstrated substantial alteration of the product after the manufacturer’s post accident inspection; the alterations being most prominent in the routing of the throttle cable which was supposedly the cause of the unintended acceleration. This defendant also contended that the plaintiff’s expert’s claims of lateral instability were long rejected as invalid.

The evidence revealed that the decedent had a BAC of.27 and had several drinks at the co-defendant tavern approximately 20 minutes before the accident. The plaintiff’s expert toxicologist contended that the decedent exhibited clear signs of inebriation and was none-the-less served. The evidence disclosed that the decedent and other ATV riders had stopped at a number of bars prior to going to the defendant tavern and had consumed numerous drinks. The plaintiff maintained that it was clear that he was exhibiting visible signs of intoxication when he arrived.

The defendant tavern, who produced no expert, nor directly called any witnesses, contended that the testimony from members of the decedent’s party demonstrated that he could consume large amounts of alcohol without showing signs of inebriation, and he probably did not show the requisite indication of intoxication when served by the defendant tavern. The defendant confronted the plaintiff’s expert with a study conducted by him that included a case of a driver who had a BAC of over.6. The defendant tavern maintained that since this individual had been able to drive, it was highly probable that a drinker with a high tolerance who had half the BAC would not show signs of visible intoxication.

The decedent was earning $________ per year. He left a wife and three daughters, age 19 through 25.

The jury found for both defendants.

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