Judge Sarah Geraghty, nominated by President Biden as a district judge in the Northern District of Georgia, rejected an effort by two corporations to throw out a consumer’s lawsuit contending he was seriously injured because of a vehicle’s defective brakes. The case can now go forward so the consumer can seek relief. The January 2023 decision was in Coates v Lyft, Inc.
What’s the Background of the Case?
Dewitt Coates rented a scooter from Lyft and rode it along a street in Atlanta. He attempted to slow the scooter down but the brakes failed and he collided with an electrical box on the sidewalk. As a result, he suffered “serious injuries,” as well as significant “pain and suffering” and “medical expenses.”
Coates believes the brakes failed because “they were defective.” Acting on his own, he filed suit against both Lyft and Segway Inc., which manufactured the scooter. The two corporations tried to dismiss the case, claiming that Coates was responsible for his own injuries because he had violated a city ordinance stating that such scooters should be ridden on the street and not on sidewalks.
What Did Judge Geraghty Decide and Why Is it Important?
Judge Geraghty denied the corporations’ motions and ruled that Coates’ case should go forward. She explained that Coates contended that his injuries were “proximately caused” by the defective brakes, and would have occurred whether he was riding on the sidewalk or the street. There was “no basis,” she went on, for the court to conclude that the alleged brake defects “are hazardous only to one riding on the sidewalk.” Only if “undisputed facts show” that Coates’ violation of the traffic ordinance “proximately caused” the injuries, she concluded, could the corporations throw the case out of court and prevent Coates from trying to prove that the defective brakes caused the harm he suffered.
In addition to giving Dewitt Coates a chance to prove his individual claims, the decision also has important ramifications for consumers more generally. As Judge Geraghty noted, people often ride scooters at least partly along sidewalks despite ordinances like Atlanta’s. Stating that any consumer’s infraction of a traffic law automatically excuses manufacturers and dealers from any responsibility for product defects would seriously harm consumers. The ruling serves as a good example of an important decision by a fair-minded federal judge nominated by President Biden and a reminder of the importance of confirming more such judges to our federal courts. Before becoming a judge, Geraghty worked as a public defender and at the Southern Center for Human Rights.