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Product Liability

Clinton Jarrell, an infant, by his mother and next friend, Jo Ann Jarrell, vs. Mountain State Outfitter, Inc., Blue Water Ropes, Inc., Blue Water Limited, Omega Pacific, and NTR, Inc. Circuit Court of Mingo County, West Virginia, Civil Action No.: 00-C-427

Type of Case: Product Liability

Twelve-year-old Clinton Jarrell suffered a paralysis injury when his father, Todd Jarrell, fell on him while the father was rappelling. The family of Clinton Jarrell retained Chris Heavens because the carabiner that Todd Jarrell was using had improperly opened during the rappelling activity. Mr. Heavens retained a product design expert and rappelling expert to review the case. The experts were critical of the carabiner locking system and lack of warnings. They were also of the opinion that Todd Jarrell acted appropriately. Mr. Heavens then filed a strict liability suit alleging that the carabiner that Todd Jarrell was using at the time of the accident was defective. Plaintiff alleged that the defective nature of the carabiner caused it to accidentally open while Todd Jarrell was rappelling, causing him to plummet onto Clinton Jarrell who was standing below him. The state of the art in design at the time did not require auto locks or warnings on the product. Result: $4,500,000 Settlement*.

Counsel: Christopher J. Heavens, Charleston, WV H. Truman Chafin, Williamson, WV

John Cobb vs. Pennzoil Products Company and Advance Stores Company, Inc., United States District Court, Northern District of West Virginia, Civil Action No.: 5:01CV69

Type of Case: Product Liability

John Cobb and his cousin replaced the carburetor on an old car. Mr. Cobb was using Gumout carburetor cleaner because the car would not start. While his cousin was cranking the starter, Mr. Cobb was spraying Gumout into the carburetor. During this process, there was an explosion and Mr. Cobb was severely burned. Chris Heavens took legal action against Pennzoil, the manufacturer of Gumout, alleging that the product was defective and lacked adequate warnings and/or instructions.

Pennzoil countered that the product was safe and included adequate warnings and/or directions. It was learned that there were other lawsuits against Pennzoil stemming from explosion incidents involving this product. Mr. Heavens contended that the product could have been made safer by using a delivery system different than the aerosol system employed and that Pennzoil was on notice of the dangerous propensities of the product by virtue of the other lawsuits. Result: Confidential Settlement.

Counsel: Christopher J. Heavens, Charleston, WV Scott Blass, Wheeling, WV

Dorothy L. Hawkins and Paul E. Hawkins, v. Ford Motor Company, Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia, Civil Action No.: 97-C-1371

Type of case: Products Liability

Paul Hawkins owned a Ford Aerostar van. The van caught on fire and was totally destroyed. The Aerostar model had an ignition switch that was known to cause fires and had been recalled by Ford. The fire in Mr. Hawkins’ Aerostar originated in the driver dash area. Ford denied Mr. Hawkins’ claim. Mr. Hawkins retained Chris Heavens to assist him in getting full compensation for his losses. Ford denied the claim of Chris Heavens and a lawsuit was filed against Ford. At trial, Ford denied that the ignition switch caused the fire and put on an elaborate defense with experts and diagrams to show how the ignition switch could not have caused the fire. Mr. Heavens obtained a verdict against Ford on both breach of warranty and strict product liability theories. Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins received the book value of their vehicle and $1,000 for annoyance, aggravation and inconvenience. Mr. Heavens then moved for the award of all attorney fees and costs, which the trial court denied. Heavens then appealed to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court reversed the trial court, ordering the trial court to award Mr. Heavens his fees and costs ($30,000+). The Hawkins case established for the first time in West Virginia law that consumers who prevail on a breach of warranty claim are automatically entitled to their attorney fees and costs. On remand, Ford paid all outstanding fees and costs to Mr. Heavens, plus the damages awarded to Mr. Hawkins by the jury. Result: Jury Verdict.

Counsel: Chrisopher J. Heavens, Charleston, WV

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