The Georgia Statute of Repose for Products: When Does Time Begin to Run?

Georgia has a statute of repose for claims involving defective products. O.C.G.A. §51-11-11(b)(2) states that “no action shall be commenced pursuant to this subsection with respect to an injury after ten years from the date of the first sale for use or consumption of the personal property causing or otherwise bringing about the injury.” [Emphasis Added]  Prior to 2006, based upon this statute, products claims were brought against product manufacturers within ten (10) years after the product was purchased by the first consumer or user. However, in 2006 the ruling in Johnson v. Ford Motor Company changed the game. In Johnson, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a claim involving damage caused by a product’s component part must be filed within 10 years after the part was incorporated into the final design of the product by the manufacturer.

In Johnson, the plaintiff suffered property damage when her Lincoln Town Car erupted into flames inside of her neighbor’s garage. The fire spread from the neighbor’s home to the plaintiff’s home. The plaintiff alleged that the vehicle’s speed control deactivation switch failed and caused the fire. The plaintiff sued the vehicle and the switch manufacturers to recover the damage to her property. The Court upheld the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the manufacturers and held that the 10 year statute of repose began to run “when Ford installed the switch in the car and the car became operable.” The Court reasoned that “when the car was driven off the assembly line, the starter had been actively placed in use, was in fact being used, and did not require purchase from the end user or consumer to be used for its “intended purpose.”

On February 7, 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a ruling resolving the controversial issue raised in the Johnson case. See Campbell v. Altec Industries Inc., 288 Ga. 535 (2011). In Campbell, the Eleventh Circuit certified the following question to the Georgia Supreme Court: “In a strict liability or negligence action, does the statute of repose in O.C.G.A § 51-1-11 begin running when (1) a component part causing an injury is assembled or tested, (2) a finished product, which includes an injuring component part, is assembled, or (3) a finished product, which includes an injuring component part, is delivered to its initial purchaser?”

The Georgia Supreme Court held that the statute of repose begins to run when a finished product is sold as new to the intended consumer who is to receive the product. The Court stated “nothing in either the statute [51-1-11(b)(1) and 51-1-11(b)(2)], or this Court’s precedent, supports a conclusion that liability under O.C.G.A § 51-1-11(b)(1) attaches while the product remains in the hands of the manufacturer, or that the statute of repose under O.C.G.A § 51-1-11(b)(2) begins while the product is still in the hands of the manufacturer. [Further,] O.C.G.A § 51-1-11(b)(2) refers to the sale of the finished product to the consumer who is intended to receive it as new. The statements in Johnson, to the contrary, are in error.”

The holding in Campbell OVERRULES Johnson. Now, for purposes of the statute of repose, the controlling factor will be when the final product, which contains the subject component, was first purchased, not when the component part was first used by the manufacturer.
 

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