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Product Liability Verdicts in Arizona

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Product liability cases in Arizona continue to generate more defense verdicts than plaintiff’s verdicts, though there was a large award in 2016. Since 2012, Arizona juries have given twelve defense verdicts and three plaintiff’s verdicts.

-Coulbourn v. Crane Company and The William Powell Company, United States District Court for the District of Arizona (2016). George Coulbourn worked as a civilian mechanic on Navy ships in the 1960’s and alleged he was exposed to asbestos dust. He developed mesothelioma, a terminal cancer in the lining of the lungs, and he died in 2012. His family contended that Crane Company and The William Powell Company failed to warn of the health hazards of asbestos, failed to property test asbestos-containing products, failed to remove them from sale, and conspired to misrepresent the risks. The companies denied liability and contended that numerous other companies and the Navy were negligent. The jury awarded $9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages. The jury found Crane Company 20% at fault and The William Powell Company 5% at fault.

-Bazurto v. Archer Company USA, Pima County Superior Court (2016). Edward Bazurto was a construction worker who poured an expanding concrete/grout product into foundation. The concrete blew out into his face and eye, knocking off his safety glasses. He sustained a severe burn to his eye and lost vision in it for about one year. He alleged the warnings should have advised him to wear safety goggles, and should have warned of an increased incidence of blowouts at higher heat. Archer Company argued that safety glasses were appropriate. Archer argued the product was not defective, and Bazurto’s employer was responsible. This was a defense verdict.

-Postil v. National Diversified Sales, Maricopa County Superior Court (2016). Steven Postil alleged that he received burns as a result of swimming in a pool with a defective valve. He alleged that a valve sold by National Diversified Sales became degraded by chloramines in the pool, and that the valve was not appropriate for chlorinated pools. He sustained second- and third-degree burns and had scarring and vertigo. National Diversified Sales defended that the valve was appropriate, not defective, and that its type is commonly used in pools. The jury awarded $250,000.

-Hartford Fire Insurance Company v. Scherer Corrugating and Machine, Inc., Maricopa County Superior Court (2016). This was a subrogation case for $418,000 regarding damage to a corn harvester that was destroyed by fire. Hartford Fire Insurance alleged that a bearing that was installed too loosely caused excessive heat, which led to the fire igniting. Scherer Corrugating and Machine alleged that the processor that contained the bearing was not new but rather an older vintage. The manufacturer also claimed that Hartford’s insured made several alternations to the processor including installing the bearings improperly. This was a defense verdict.

-Ochoa-Valenzuela v. Ford Motor Company, United States District Court for the District of Arizona (2015). Veronica Ochoa-Valenzuela, a seat-belted right front passenger, was paralyzed in a crash. The driver lost control and rolled the car 4½ times off of the side of a road. Ochoa claimed its roof crushed more than she believed it should have, and that a weld in the roof had a manufacturing defect. She asked the jury for more than $50 million. Ford denied that the roof was defective, and defended that the roof performed reasonably and as expected under the extreme crash conditions and that there was no weld defect. This was a defense verdict.

-Borquez et al. v. Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing et al., Pima County Superior Court (2015). Jesus Borquez was operating a Toyota forklift when it tipped over. He alleged that he unfastened his seatbelt and attempted to jump clear. Borquez sustained crush injuries to the pelvis, fractured multiple vertebrae and sustained internal organ damage and required at least 17 surgeries. He alleged that the forklift had been equipped with an aftermarket clamp attachment that could make it laterally unstable. He asked the jury to award $9 million. Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing defended that the clamp combination was stable when used in all reasonable conditions and that it complied with regulations and standards. It also defended that it was likely Borquez was not wearing his seatbelt at the time, based on the physical evidence and amount of time it would have taken him to remove it. This was a defense verdict.

-Farmers Insurance Exchange v. Bradford White Corporation, Maricopa County Superior Court (2015). This was a subrogation case in which Farmers Insurance Exchange alleged that a leak in a water heater’s weld seam caused a hole, creating water damage to a home. Farmers claimed that there was a manufacturing defect in the virtreous lining of the water heater. Bradford White claimed that the insured was responsible for the damage and that the water heater was installed improperly without a drip pan and drain line. Bradford White also argued that hard water attached to the walls of the water heater and its anode rod that reduces corrosion was completely consumed. The jury awarded $26,632.21 for property damage.

-Monje v. Spin Master, Inc., Moose Enterprises Proprietary Ltd. and Toys “R” Us, Inc., United States District Court for the District of Arizona (2015). This was a case about a craft toy called Aqua Dots that was recalled after numerous reports of ingestion by young children that resulted in respiratory problems, altered consciousness and vomiting. Mark and Beth Monjes alleged that their 16 month-old son ingested an unknown number of Aqua Dots, causing him the same life-threatening symptoms. They alleged that defendants negligently designed, manufactured and sold the product. Spin Master and Toys “R” Us argued they were unaware of harmful chemicals in the product and that they had no test results or other indication that the toy was dangerous before the boy ingested it. Moose Enterprises defended that it recalled the product after it learned that its subcontractor had substituted a chemical. The jury awarded $435,000.  The jury found Spin Master 15% at fault, Moose Enterprises 33% at fault, Toys “R” Us 0% at fault, Monje 2% at fault, and nonparties 50% at fault.

-Rezzonico v. Indiana Mills & Manufacturing, Inc., Maricopa County Superior Court (2014). Crystal Rezzonico was a fire department captain responding to a fire call when a car collided into the side of her fire truck, causing the door to open and ejecting her. She sustained a traumatic brain injury and a seizure disorder. She claimed she was wearing her seatbelt but that its design permitted her seatbelt’s button to become contaminated, resulting in a partial or false latching of the buckle. She sought more than $2 million. Seatbelt manufacturer Indiana Mills & Manufacturing denied that she was wearing her seatbelt, and demonstrated that no contaminants were visible in the seatbelt buckle. It also argued the buckle was designed so that the button did not touch the metal latchplate that slots into the buckle. This was a defense verdict.

-Miidas Greenhouses, L.L.C. et al. v. Berger Group Ltd., Santa Cruz County Superior Court (2013). This case involved $7.5 million in crop losses from a certain kind of peat moss. Some of Miidas Greenhouses’ plants sprouted but they started drying out, and tests showed that the moss was too acidic for vegetable seeds and that it could not absorb enough water. Miidas alleged that Berger Group failed to identify the acidic properties of the moss or to warn that it was not appropriate for vegetable seeds. Berger Group defended that the moss was naturally acidic and that a warning was not required. This was a defense verdict.

-Millard v. Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, Maricopa County Superior Court (2013). In this case, a vehicle’s headrest ejected and caused a steel splinter to pierce the eye of a plaintiff passenger. Plaintiffs alleged the headrest was defective in various respects and that Toyota failed to warn of the dangerous condition. Toyota defended that too much force was put on the headrest and that the release button was pressed while it was being forced upward. This was a defense verdict.

-Boyle v. Ford Motor Company, Pima County Superior Court (2013). Thomas and Lisa Boyle alleged that a speed control deactivation switch on their 2002 Ford F-150 pickup truck caused a fire. The switch had been recalled.  The Boyles claimed they sustained burns to their feet and property damage.  Ford defended that the fire was caused by the use of aftermarket equipment and that the fire did not originate at the switch. This was a defense verdict.

-Everett v. C.R. Bard, Inc. and Bard Peripheral Vascular, Inc., Maricopa County Superior Court (2012).  Rosemary Everett had a filter surgically implanted in her inferior vena cava for collection of blood clots. The filter allegedly fractured and punctured her aorta, and later pierced the aorta, spine and duodenum. She required surgical repair both times but had no permanent effects. The Everetts alleged the filter was inadequately tested, was defective due to unreasonably high stress, that the failures were due to fatigue, and that the filter had an excessively high failure rate. They asked the jury for $5.5 million in compensatory damages plus punitive damages. Bard demonstrated that the filter was not defective and had been reasonably tested, that its fracture rate was no more than the industry average, and that the fractures came from atypical loading conditions. This was a defense verdict.

-Reaves v. Taurus International Manufacturing, United States District Court for the District of Arizona (2012). This was a case about a gun that exploded when David Reaves fired it.  Reaves claimed that the high-velocity ammunition it was loaded with generated pressures that exceeded the margin of safety built into the revolver, that it was dangerous, and that its manual should have warned about high-velocity ammunition. He alleged a complete laceration of his trigger finger and other injuries. Taurus International defended that the ammunition was a misuse, that its warnings were adequate, and that it had no way to warn of each specific improper load. This was a defense verdict.

-Alcala v. Pentair, Inc., Pima County Superior Court (2012). James Alcala was servicing a home spa filter when the filter tank assembly exploded upward and struck him in the face and head. He alleged that the component parts and design of the relief valve were insufficient to prevent the separation of the tank assembly. Alcala sustained a head injury, brain damage, blindness in one eye, and fractured facial bones. Pentair defended that he did not follow the warnings or instructions, failed to open the relief valve, and/or failed to tighten the clamp band before turning on the pump. This was a defense verdict.

My latest article for Arizona Attorney about 2015’s Arizona civil verdicts, with assistance from my co-author Troy Roberts, is posted here.