107 F.3d 12 (6th Cir. 1997), 96-5153, Major v. General Motors Corp.

Docket Nº:96-5153.
Citation:107 F.3d 12
Party Name:Dorothy MAJOR; Marquita Dickison, Plaintiffs, Robert Meenach, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of Rita Meenach, deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance, Intervening Plaintiff, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:February 03, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 12

107 F.3d 12 (6th Cir. 1997)

Dorothy MAJOR; Marquita Dickison, Plaintiffs,

Robert Meenach, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of Rita Meenach, deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance, Intervening Plaintiff,

v.

GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 96-5153.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

February 3, 1997

Editorial Note:

This opinion appears in the Federal reporter in a table titled "Table of Decisions Without Reported Opinions". (See FI CTA6 Rule 28 and FI CTA6 IOP 206 regarding use of unpublished opinions)

On Appeal From the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, No. 93-00201; Karl S. Forester, Judge.

E.D.Ky.

AFFIRMED.

Before: ENGEL, BROWN and COLE, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM.

Robert Meenach appeals on various grounds the judgment entered for defendant General Motors Corporation ("GMC") following a jury verdict in defendant's favor in this wrongful death suit.

I.

On April 14, 1992, the plaintiff's wife, Rita Meenach, was driving a 1990 Cadillac Seville owned by Marquita Dickison, her sister. Dickison was in the back seat, and Dorothy Major, Rita Meenach's mother, was in the front passenger seat. Meenach had some sort of seizure and lost consciousness. The car went off the highway. It crossed a ditch, went through an area with many plants and small trees, and knocked down a fence before stopping.

Major and Dickison were not seriously injured. Nor was Meenach, but she was still unconscious, or at the very least dazed and confused. Major may or may not have turned off the ignition. Both she and Dickison tried to release Meenach from her seat belt but were unsuccessful. Flames started emanating from the hood of the car, so Major and Dickison stood back. Two men who were quickly on the scene, David McCarty and Kenneth Werst, each tried to release Meenach's seat belt and remove her from the car but could not. Another man, David Humphreys, did not see the seat belt when he tried unsuccessfully to pull Meenach out of the car.

Firefighters extinguished the fire about twenty minutes after the accident. Emergency personnel used the "jaws of life" to remove the driver's side door. One of the firefighters thinks he remembers cutting the shoulder part of the seat belt. Meenach eventually got out of the car on her own. She was put on a stretcher because of severe burns. Twenty-seven days later, she died of sepsis, an infection resulting from the burns.

Robert Meenach filed this wrongful death suit in state court, based on strict liability, negligence, and breach of implied warranties. GMC removed to federal court on the basis of diversity. During discovery, Meenach filed a motion to compel GMC to answer certain interrogatories more fully. The court denied the motion. The case was tried to a jury in the Eastern District of Kentucky from October 17, 1995, to November 6, 1995.

At trial, Meenach theorized that both the seat belt and the fuel system of the 1990 Seville suffered from design defects. Meenach's principal expert witness, O.J. Hahn, testified that the lack of an "inertia switch" to shut off the fuel pump upon a collision allowed gas to keep running towards the hot engine. The plastic fuel feed and return lines, according to Hahn, could easily have been punctured, allowing gas to drip onto the engine or catalytic converter, thereby starting a fire. Furthermore, Hahn continued, the hole in the fire wall to accommodate the steering column was larger than necessary, thus allowing the fire to spread easily. Hahn also theorized that the lap part of the seat belt ratcheted down too tightly during deceleration.

GMC's experts contested these theories. According to GMC, the fire started when the bumpy off-road ride...

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