Quinton v. Toyota Motor CorporationCivil Action No. 1:10-cv-02187-JMC.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division.

June 7, 2013.

This case involved a rented 2009 Toyota Camry.  In October of 2009 April Quinton lost control of the Camry for unknown reasons in Aiken, South Carolina.  The vehicle left the road and rolled several times.  During the rollover, Quinton suffered severe head injuries from which she never recovered, and she subsequently died on October 23, 2009.  Quinton’s estate brought this wrongful death and survival action in Aiken County claiming the Camry’s airbag was defective and failed to deploy properly during the accident, which caused “enhanced injury.” (The Estate's action is based on teh crashworthiness doctrine, which limits damages to enhanced injury.)

The Plaintiff filed a Motion in Limine seeking to exclude the cause of the accident.  Relying on Jiminez v. Daimler, the Estate argued that in applying crashworthiness in a cause of action, "liability is imposed not for defects that cause collisions but for defects that cause injuries after collisions occur." Jimenez v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 269 F.3d 439, 452 (4th Cir. 2001). Therefore, "evidence about the cause of the original accident is not relevant." Id.

South Carolina courts have not directly addressed whether causation is appropriately admitted in a crashworthiness case.  In fact, in Jimenez the court did not hold that South Carolina would not admit evidence of cause in a crashworthiness analysis, but only that the District Court did not err in excluding such evidence under then current South Carolina law.  

In the most recent decision regarding products defect, Branham v. Ford Motor, the South Carolina Supreme Court embraced the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability. Branham v. Ford Motor Co., 390 S.C. 203, 220, 701 S.E.2d 5, 14 (2010) (adopting the Restatement Third's risk-utility test for a design defect claim). The Restatement Third contemplates scenarios of increased harm due to a product defect. "When a product is defective at the time of commercial sale or other distribution and the defect is a substantial factor in increasing the plaintiff's harm beyond that which would have resulted from other causes, the product seller is subject to liability for the increased harm." Restatement (Third) of Torts: Prod. Liab. § 16(a) (1998).  Regarding causation however, in the comments section, Section 17 goes on to say that the contributory fault of the plaintiff in causing an accident that results in defect-related increased harm is relevant in apportioning responsibility between or among the parties, according to applicable apportionment law. “In other words, [i]n every crashworthiness case, the jury will be required to determine how much of a plaintiff's injuries resulted from the initial collision and how much of the injuries were the result of a second collision.  Id. Quoting, Montag v. Honda Motor Co., 75 F.3d 1414, 1419 (10th Cir. 1996).

The Court ruled in favor of Toyota. Relying on the Third Restatement and dicta in Jiminez, the Fourth Circuit held that there is no reason to deprive the jury of the evidence needed to make the determination of apportioning injury when the crashworthiness doctrine itself always apportions liability by exempting the manufacture for responsibility for all injuries caused by the first collision.

Milton Stratos has successfully recovered from wrongful death and survival actions in association to auto product defect, specifically involving crashworthiness, and defective airbag systems.  If you have experienced a car accident that may have been caused by a defect please contact us for a cost free consultation. 

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