Jury deliberates just 1.5 hours in 2017 death caused by
defective Christmas lighting
DENTON – The trial team at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP has secured a major defense win by emphasizing the importance of the Texas innocent retailer statute to protect retail sellers in product liability cases.
The trial involved a tragic accident in which a fatal fire ignited during a Christmas lights installation project at a home in Denton County. The victim’s family brought claims against the product manufacturer, the company hired to install the lights, the retailer, and others. Bradley represented the retailer in the case, Jabo’s Ace Hardware. The plaintiff, intervenor, and other defendants reached confidential settlements before trial.
The plaintiff and intervenor alleged that Jabo’s Ace Hardware was responsible for the fire because it had a duty to warn the installer that if the Christmas light string was severed by the installer and not covered, exposed wires could ignite a fire and cause it to spread.
“We acknowledged the tragic loss to the family while focusing the blame on those who were truly responsible, rather than our client,” said Dick Sayles, co-lead counsel along with Rob Sayles. “This trial victory speaks to the talent and dedication of our entire trial team.” Bradley attorneys Scott Smith and Lauren Green, Jon Paul Melton at Thompson Coe, and Roger Yale of the Yale Law Group also represented Jabo’s Ace Hardware at trial.
Before trial, the court denied Jabo’s Ace Hardware’s summary judgment on the innocent retailer defense, citing fact issues over the statute’s applicability. However, during the trial, which concluded in February, the veteran Bradley trial team established the key elements of the defense including that Jabo’s Ace Hardware did not exercise any control over the design of the Christmas light string; Jabo’s Ace Hardware did not exercise control over the content of the warnings or instructions; Jabo’s Ace Hardware made no express factual representations about the light string; and Jabo’s Ace Hardware knew of no defect in the light string when it supplied it to the installer.
Dick Sayles explained to jurors that therefore, under the law, his client was not liable for the tragedy. Jurors unanimously agreed, finding Jabo’s Ace Hardware not liable based on the innocent retailer statute. Because of that finding, the jury did not consider additional questions regarding defect, negligence, or damages.
“The Texas Legislature recognized that in our complex world, retailers should not be held responsible for the vast and diverse number of products that wind up on their shelves, especially when they have nothing to do with the design or control of that product,” says Rob Sayles. “We’re pleased by the jury’s verdict.”
The case is Jami Geissler, et al. v. BZ Lawn Care, LLC., et al. Cause No. 19-1960-362 in the 362nd District Court in Denton County, Texas.
Bradley combines skilled legal counsel with exceptional client service and unwavering integrity to assist a diverse range of corporate and individual clients in achieving their business goals. With offices in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the District of Columbia, the firm’s almost 600 lawyers represent regional, national, and international clients in various industries, including banking and financial services, construction, energy, healthcare, life sciences, manufacturing, real estate, and technology, among many others.