United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
January 11, 2019, the Court held a hearing on pending
motions-Defendant FCA's motion for summary judgment (Doc.
42) and six motions to exclude expert testimony (Docs. 43,
44, 45, 46, 47, 50). Doc. 83. The Court ruled on most of
these motions at the hearing. Id. With regard to the
Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Court
granted the motion in part and announced it would deny the
remainder of the motion by written order. Id. The
Court deferred ruling on the Plaintiffs' motion to
exclude certain testimony of defense expert Daniel Toomey
(Doc. 44). Doc. 83. This order DENIES the
remainder of FCA's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 42),
DENIES in partFCA's motion to exclude the
defective design opinions held by Neil Hannemann (Doc. 43),
and GRANTS the Plaintiffs' motion to
exclude Toomey's testimony (Doc. 44).
January 30, 2016 at 3:42 a.m., Tristan Anderson lost control
of his 2007 Jeep Wrangler. Doc. 42-2. The Jeep hit a stacked
rock wall, became airborne, and rolled onto the driver's
side. Id. at 3. A rear-seat passenger, who was not
wearing a seatbelt, was ejected and died. Id. at 4;
Docs. 57 at 102:11-102:19, 117:8-117:11; 59 at 74:18-22.
Tristan and a front-seat passenger lost consciousness. Doc.
58 at 87:12-16, 88:2-12, 104:3-15. Shortly after impact, the
Jeep caught fire. Doc. 42-2. The passenger regained
consciousness and escaped. Doc. 58 at 87:12-16, 88:2-12,
104:3-15. Tristan too regained consciousness, but not in time
to safely free himself. Id. He was severely burned
and later died. Doc. 61 at 49:12-17.
Jeep was designed and manufactured by Daimler Chrysler
Corporation. Doc. 51 at 196:19-21. In 2009, Chrysler, along
with twenty-four of its affiliated entities, filed a
voluntary petition under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.
Doc. 42-7. In the bankruptcy case, Chrysler entered into a
court-approved master transaction agreement (MTA), in which
FCA purchased substantially all of the debtors' assets
and assumed certain of their liabilities. Docs. 42-8; 42-9;
42-10; 42-11. The MTA provided that FCA assumed
responsibility for Chrysler's product liability claims,
including wrongful death claims, seeking compensatory
damages; FCA did not assume responsibility for
“punitive damages.” Docs. 42-8 at 19-21; 42-9
¶¶ 12, 13, 35, 39; 42-10 ¶¶ 14, 32; 42-11
their amended complaint,  John Anderson, as Tristan's father
and as administrator of Tristan's estate, and Julie
Peoples, Tristan's mother, assert strict liability and
negligence claims based on a number of alleged defects, acts,
and omissions. Doc. 5. However, the Plaintiffs now focus
primarily on what they claim was the Jeep's inadequately
guarded fuel tank. See generally Docs. 69; 70.
Relying on a battery of experts, they claim that something,
most likely a rock, penetrated the unprotected fuel tank,
causing the fire that took Tristan's life. See
generally Docs. 52; 54; 55; 56; 57. Significantly, the
Plaintiffs seek only compensatory damages, including the full
value of Tristan's life, the measure of damages under
Georgia's wrongful death statute (O.C.G.A. §
51-4-4). Doc. 5 at 10.
moves for summary judgment on two grounds relevant here. Doc.
42. First, FCA argues that it is entitled to summary judgment
because the Plaintiffs' wrongful death claim was not
included in FCA's assumption of liabilities in the MTA.
Doc. 42-1 at 8-14. Specifically, FCA argues that because
Georgia's wrongful death statute is “punitive in
nature” and the MTA assumption of liabilities excludes
punitive damages, it is entitled to summary judgment.
FCA contends the Plaintiffs' theories of liability hinges
on Hannemann's defective design opinion. Id. at
8. In a separate motion, FCA moves to exclude that opinion
and argues that if it is excluded, the Plaintiffs have no
evidence of liability and, therefore, summary judgment is
appropriate. Docs. 42-1 at 8; 43. At the hearing, the Court
ruled that Hannemann's design theory would not be
excluded for reasons that would be addressed further by
written order. Doc. 83. This order elaborates on why
FCA's motion to exclude Hannemann's defective design
opinion (Doc. 43) and its summary judgment motion based on
that motion (Doc. 42), are denied.
Plaintiffs move to exclude certain testimony of Daniel
Toomey, FCA's accident reconstruction expert. Doc. 44.
Specifically, the Plaintiffs move to exclude his testimony
regarding “data from the National Automotive Sampling
System/Crashworthiness data [sic] (“NASS”)
tending to establish that front impacts with a delta-V, or
change in velocity, of 30 mph or less account for more than
98% of all frontal impacts and that front impacts with a
delta-V of 40 mph or less account for more than 99% of all
frontal impacts.” Id. at 3. Toomey testified
the data demonstrate that the impact here was more severe
than ninety-nine percent of all frontal impact crashes.
Motion for Summary Judgment
January hearing, the Court granted FCA's motion for
summary judgment on the Plaintiffs' claims based on
theories of defective design of the fire wall, defective
manufacturing, defective assembly, failure to recall, failure
to adequately test, and failure to warn, as well as the
Plaintiffs' claim for attorney's fees. Doc. 83. The
Court also denied FCA's motion regarding what FCA
considers an alternative design claim. Id. The only
remaining issues are (1) whether FCA assumed liability for
claims brought under Georgia's wrongful death statute,
and (2) whether Hannemann's defective design opinion
should be excluded, leaving the Plaintiffs with no evidence
Motion for Summary Judgment Standard
shall grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “When the nonmoving party
has the burden of proof at trial, the moving party is not
required to ‘support its motion with affidavits or
other similar material negating the opponent's
claim.'” United States v. Four Parcels of Real
Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting
Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986))
(emphasis in original). The moving party “simply may
show . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support
the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 1438
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
“Assuming the moving party has met its burden, the
non-movant must then show a ...