Georgia Supreme Court Rules that Statute of Repose Begins to Run When a Finished Product is Sold as New to an Intended Customer

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit asked the Georgia Supreme Court to determine when under Georgia Law, O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11, is the deadline triggered for filing a product liability cause of action.  The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously answered the certified question in Campbell et al. v. Altec Industries, Inc., et al, 288 Ga. 535, 707 S.E. 2d 48 (2011), holding that the date to be used for calculating the beginning of the statute of repose under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11(b)(2), is the date when a finished product is sold as new to the intended customer. The Court also held that nothing in the statute, or in the Georgia Supreme Court’s precedent, would support a conclusion that the statute begins to run while the product remains in the hands of the manufacturer.

According to O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11(b)(2), no action may be brought against a manufacturer of a product after ten years from the date of the first sale for use or consumption of the product.  On June 30, 2006, Ronald J. Campbell, a Georgia Power employee, was injured while operating a bucket truck.  While operating the bucket truck, the lower boom lift cylinder failed, causing both the upper and lower booms to drop, which sent the bucket to the ground and led to Campbell’s personal injuries and product liability lawsuit.  The component parts of the boom were manufactured by Altec Industries and Texas Hydraulics and were sold to Georgia Power on April 13, 1998.

On February 8, 2008, Ronald J. Campbell and his wife filed a lawsuit, based in part, on product liability against Altec Industries and Texas Hydraulics, Inc., for defects in products that were sold to Georgia Power.  Altec Industries file a motion for summary judgment alleging that the product liability claim was barred by Georgia’s ten-year Statute of Repose because the statute began to run on January 14, 1998, the date that Altec placed the faulty cylinder on a test chassis.

 The Georgia Supreme Court looked to the Georgia General Assembly’s intent when drafting O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11 to determine when the statute of repose begins to run.  The Court held that the General Assembly did not choose to begin the period of repose on the date of the first sale of a product by its manufacturer.  Rather, the period of repose begins on the date of the first sale for use or consumption.

By ruling that the statute of repose begins to run when a finished product is sold as new to the intended customer, the Georgia Supreme Court overruled the Georgia Court of Appeals 2006 decision in Johnson v. Ford Motor Co., 281 Ga. App. 166 (2006).  In Johnson, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the ten-year statute of repose began to run the day the manufacturer installed the faulty product in a car and the car became operable.  Id. at 171.  The Georgia Supreme Court cleared up any ambiguity as to when the statute of repose begins to run in product liability cases by its holding in, Campbell et al. v. Altect Industries Inc., et al.