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From Products Liability Law Daily, November 20, 2018

Personal representatives of decedents may recover lost wages, earning capacity from FCA-US

By Miriam A. Friedman, J.D.

An auto manufacturer failed to show that it was entitled as a matter of law to an order prohibiting personal representatives of the estates of a woman and her unborn child, who had died as a result of a collision, from recovering damages for lost wages and earning capacity of their decedents, a federal district court in Michigan found, denying the manufacturer’s motion for partial summary judgment (White v. FCA US, LLC, November 19, 2018, Lawson, D.).

The woman and her unborn child were burned to death inside her 2003 Jeep Liberty after the vehicle was struck from behind by another driver. The personal representatives of the decedents filed claims against FCA US, LLC for product liability, defective design, failure to warn, breach of the implied warranty of fitness for use, and "negligent recall." The auto manufacturer moved for partial summary judgment, seeking a ruling as to whether the plaintiffs, as personal representatives, were entitled to recover damages for lost wages and earning capacity of their decedents.

Damages. The manufacturer contended that under Michigan’s Wrongful Death Act, a deceased’s survivors may recover economic damages only if they prove a loss of financial support. According to the court, however, that assertion "collide[d]" with decisions by the Michigan Court of Appeals, namely, Thorn v. Mercy Memorial Hospital Corp., in which the court expressly rejected the idea that the Wrongful Death Act’s listing of damages excluded other kinds of damages traditionally allowed for tort victims, and Denney v. Kent County Road Commission, in which the court held that the damages available included any type of damages, economic and noneconomic, deemed justified by the facts of the particular case. The court in the current case concluded that although claimants seeking damages for loss of support must offer some evidence of a "reasonable expectation of support," that "does not diminish the coordinate rule that the personal representative stands in the shoes of the decedent and may recover all the damages the deceased would have been entitled to had she not died."

Rejecting the manufacturer’s attempts to dismiss Thorn and Denney as "novelties that ought to be disregarded … as poorly reasoned and in tension with earlier decisions of the state’s appellate courts," the court here found that these decisions had not been criticized by Michigan courts and that they were "binding on Michigan’s trial and intermediate appellate courts." Finally, although the personal representatives had not offered evidence of pecuniary loss, nor claimed loss-of-support damages, the court found that this did not prohibit them from seeking damages for the decedents’ lost wages and earning capacity.

The case is No. 17-12320.

Attorneys: Courtney E. Morgan, Jr. (Morgan & Meyers, PLC) for Susan White and Kayla White. Bryce A. Rucker (Dykema Gossett PLLC) for FCA US, LLC.

Companies: FCA US, LLC

MainStory: TopStory DamagesNews MotorVehiclesNews MichiganNews

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