In May 2003, 17 illegal immigrants were being smuggled through Texas in an 18-wheel truck trailer. They died when the driver abandoned the trailer at a Victoria rest stop. The families of some of the deceased immigrants filed a civil suit against the trailer manufacturer, among others, claiming the trailer was defective. That suit is still pending.

A criminal can abuse almost any product, leading victims or their families to file civil suits against the product’s manufacturer. For example, in a Kentucky state court, a man sued the manufacturer of a drain cleaner after being burned by a substance a woman threw at him and his sister. In a Massachusetts state court, a mother sued the designer of a hot water heater on behalf of her daughter after the mother’s ex-boyfriend held the child under a flow of scalding water. And in a Mississippi state court, the estate of a lawyer sued the car manufacturer after a disgruntled client locked the lawyer in the trunk of her car and left her to die. In the drain cleaner and water heater suits, the plaintiffs lost, but the Mississippi court found that the plaintiff could sue the car manufacturer for the lack of a trunk-release mechanism. If plaintiffs in such suits can survive summary judgment, these cases become dangerous for manufacturers.

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