In a case of first impression, the Nebraska Supreme Court has rejected arguments that the state’s product liability statute of repose should be tolled for minors. Budler v. General Motors Corp., 689 N.W.2d 847 (Neb. 2004). The ruling was en banc and unanimous. The court’s decision was the result of thoughtful analysis and application of well-established principles of statutory interpretation. The impact of the ruling is significant, however, given the state’s long-standing public policy of preserving a minor’s cause of action until he/she reaches the age of majority.
The issue reached the court when the Eighth Circuit certified the question to the Nebraska Supreme Court in a vehicle product liability case pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. Budler v. General Motors Corp., 400 F.3d 618, 619 (8th Cir. 2005). The minor, Andrew Budler, was injured on April 3, 1998, when the 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix in which he was a passenger rolled over. Budler sustained serious injuries and was paralyzed from the neck down. He was 19 years old at the time of the accident, and under Nebraska law was still considered a minor for purposes of bringing legal claims. On Oct. 3, 2000, Budler turned 21. On April 2, 2002 (just before the 4-year statute of limitations would have run), Budler’s parents, after being appointed as his conservators, filed suit against General Motors Corporation – the vehicle manufacturer. The Budlers asserted product liability claims for negligence and strict liability. On Oct. 10, 2002, Budler died as a result of the injuries he had sustained in the accident. The complaint was then amended to reflect his parents’ status as personal representatives of his estate.