Cars R Us Sales & Rentals Inc., et al. v. Defendant Automobile Manufacturer

  • Northern District of Illinois (Judge Philip G. Reinhard)01/19/2011
    Client: Defendant Automobile Manufacturer
    Outcome: Summary Judgment Granted

Synopsis:

General Casualty Insurance, its insured Cars R Us, Inc., and Cars R Us’ owner, sued the defendant automobile manufacturer, claiming that a vehicle was negligently designed because its integrated air bag module (“IABM”) could be exposed to moisture and cause an electrical fire.

Plaintiffs claimed that on February 24, 2005, such a fire destroyed Cars R Us premises. A recall notice for the vehicle in question had been issued by the defendant and the National Highway Safety Administration on December 6, 2002 because water or other liquid contaminations on the IABM could cause shorting and possible fire. The recall work was never completed on this vehicle at Cars R Us.

Plaintiffs’ expert witness opined that the vehicle was negligently designed by the defendant because the IABM’s active electrical circuit could contact moisture, and did so, causing the subject fire. In her deposition, plaintiffs’ expert witness admitted she was not knowledgeable about the defendant's or other motor vehicle manufacturers’ design and manufacturing processes and could not opine whether the defendant deviated from any standard of care followed by other motor vehicle manufacturers and was thereby negligent.

In a supplemental report, plaintiff’s’ expert witness reviewed certain documents from the defendant and opined that the manufacturer was negligent in the design of the IABM.

The district court agreed with the defense that the plaintiff’s expert witness’ opinion was insufficient to prove the defendant's negligence, as the documents did not demonstrate negligence, and plaintiffs’ expert’s reliance on an individual recall could not show negligence at the time of manufacture, since the recall was issued years after the vehicle was sold.

Similarly, plaintiffs’ expert’s additional opinions that the defendant knew or should have known the chosen design was unreasonably dangerous lacked a reasonable basis, under Daubert, as her conclusion did not follow from an adequate expert study of the problem. Her opinion had to be ignored, and therefore summary judgment for the defense was proper.

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