Court Deadlines Are Important, Especially in Federal Court

clock_time_dead_broken-scaledBefore taking on one of the nation’s largest, leading automotive manufacturing companies, it is essential to consult an excellent attorney with knowledge of the Federal Court system.  The importance of following the deadlines set by the Court in that system cannot be understated. Unfortunately, the lesson of how critical it is to follow court deadlines came to bear a harsh reality for the children of two deceased car accident victims in the following case.

 Sandra, Carnel, Darnell, Gregory, and Lashawn Joseph (collectively “the Josephs”) sued GM after the car their parents, George and Jeanette Joseph, were passengers in caught fire and crashed into the guardrail, causing their parents’ fatal injuries. In trying to gather evidence to support their claims against GM at the District Court, the Josephs sought expert testimony. Still, they failed to identify expert witnesses or produce expert reports before the District Court’s scheduled deadline passed. Therefore, the District Court denied the Josephs’ motion to reschedule the deadlines based on their failure to show good cause for not meeting the deadline. 

The Josephs did not object to this denial, and GM moved for summary judgment. The summary judgment argued that because Josephs had no experts to prove their claims, they had no case to go forward with. The Josephs attempted to admit expert testimony to challenge GM’s motion. However, the District Court neither allowed the testimony because the Josephs missed the previously scheduled deadlines nor allowed the Josephs extra time for discovery. As a result, the District Court ruled in favor of GM on the motion for summary judgment. The Josephs subsequently appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

 On appeal, the Fifth Circuit stated that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the Josephs’ arguments on the District Court’s denials of their motions to reschedule and extend the discovery time because the Josephs did not mention these claims in their appeal. Although the Fifth Circuit was able to address the Josephs’ appeal on the District Court’s decision to grant GM’s motion for summary judgment, the Fifth Circuit once again ruled in favor of GM.

When making this decision, the Fifth Circuit considered the merits of the Josephs’ products liability claim against GM. Under Louisiana state law, La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.54, to prove there is a design or composition defect, the plaintiff/Joseph must show that (1) the product was unreasonably dangerous because of the defect, (2) the defect caused the plaintiff/Joseph’s injuries, and (3) the defect existed when the product left the manufacturer’s control. 

Here, the Josephs had to show that the car their parents suffered fatal injuries in satisfied those elements of the Louisiana products liability statute. To do so, the Fifth Circuit further explained that the state law requires a plaintiff/Joseph to show that the product either deviated in a material way from the manufacturer’s standardized specifications, La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.55 or that an alternative design that could have been reasonably made could have prevented the injuries that occurred, La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.56. Yet, the Fifth Circuit concluded the Josephs, in this case, failed to show any evidence to meet these statutory standards. Therefore, failing to show any genuine issue of material fact to undermine the District Court’s decision to grant GM’s summary judgment motion, the decision was affirmed.

 When it comes to gathering evidence in cases involving highly technical disputes, hiring an attorney who follows a court’s timetables and preserves arguments for appeal can lead to far better outcomes than the Josephs experienced. Many product liability cases can seem like David versus Goliath situations, so just be sure to show up well-equipped and prepared.


Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Gina McKlveen

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