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Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd.: Products Liability Claims

In Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd., an appeal before the Supreme Court of Alabama, plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a 2004 GMC pickup truck when he suffered a serious injury to his spinal cord. He was reportedly a victim of a drunk driver.

According to court records, plaintiff was in the pickup truck being driven by his friend when another driver allegedly ran a stop sign and collided with them.  That motorist was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.  When the collision occurred, the pickup truck in which plaintiff was riding flipped over and rolled twice, resulting in substantial damage to the vehicle.  The point of the collision was the passenger door where plaintiff was sitting.  Fortunately, he was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the serious car accident, sodriver he was not ejected from the vehicle.  When not wearing a seat belt, ejections are common and can often result in death.

However, when the vehicle rolled over, the roof of the vehicle collapsed over the passenger compartment and plaintiff suffered the severe injury to his spine.  In his products liability action, he alleged that it was the defective design of the roof that allowed it to cave in on him in the crash, and it was the defective design of the seat belt, as it had failed to keep him restrained in his seat, that resulted in his serious spinal injuries.

When plaintiff filed his products liability lawsuit, he filed it against several defendants all connected with General Motors.  One of these defendants was GM of Canada.  While the car is typically considered an American vehicle, many of its components are manufactured overseas and then assembled in North America.  While the car will have a sticker saying its place of final assembly was the United States in Michigan or Ohio, for example, that does not necessarily mean what one might expect it to mean.   Many major systems are assembled in Canada and then shipped to the U.S. for final assembly.  In this case, the roof and the seat belt mechanisms were manufactured in Canada and then attached to the truck (final assembly) in the U.S.

As our Boston products liability attorneys can explain, in federal cases, as well as state cases, the court must have subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction over the case.  In this case, plaintiff was from Germany and was a German citizen.  He was in the German military but was training in the United States, as is often the case.  The person driving the car was training with plaintiff in the same unit.

Since the car was purchased in U.S., and the plaintiff had no ties to Canada, the court found that there was no jurisdiction over that particular defendant and granted its motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.  The plaintiff appealed this decision, and, on appeal, the court of appeals concluded that there was no error committed by the trial court in finding a lack of jurisdiction and affirmed the lower court’s dismissal.

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Additional Resources:

Hinrichs v. General Motors of Canada, Ltd., October 1, 2016, Supreme Court of Alabama

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