Justices could reconsider major product liability verdict

By Peter Vieth, Virginia Lawyers Weekly – 3/3/2015

The Supreme Court of Virginia may be taking a second look at its decision to overturn a $14.14 million verdict for a Pulaski County man who blamed an alleged air bag defect for his car crash injuries.

The court ruled 6-1 that Gage Duncan’s claims were based on testimony from an expert who lacked a proper foundation for his opinions. The January decision seemingly ended the case with entry of final judgment for car maker Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.

But when Duncan’s lawyers urged the court to reconsider, the court then asked lawyers for Hyundai to file a brief in response.

The unusual request came in a Feb. 24 letter to Hyundai counsel. “The Court has directed me to inform you that it wishes to receive a brief in response to the petition for rehearing filed by the appellees,” wrote court Clerk Patricia L. Harrington.

Hyundai’s brief is due March 11.

In his petition for rehearing, Duncan’s lawyers argued the Supreme Court ignored two key principles – that a jury is the ultimate judge of an expert’s reliability and that a reviewing court must view testimony in a light most favorable to the winner at trial.

“These doctrines deserved better treatment. They should be adhered to, in this case and the future. But this Court’s opinion quietly buries them, without a decent eulogy,” wrote L. Steven Emmert of Virginia, one of Duncan’s lawyers.