Estate of Thompson v. Kawasaki Heavy Indus., Ltd.

Decision Date11 February 2013
Docket NumberNo. C 11–4026–MWB.,C 11–4026–MWB.
Citation922 F.Supp.2d 780
PartiesThe ESTATE OF Scott W. THOMPSON, by the Personal Representatives, Randy W. Thompson and Vicky J. Thompson, and Randy W. Thompson and Vicky J. Thompson, Individually, Plaintiffs, v. KAWASAKI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, LTD., Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., and Ohlins Racing AB, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Frederick W. James, The James Law Firm, PC, Des Moines, IA, Douglas Richard Bradley, Scott Eric Nutter, Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, Chtd., Kansas City, MO, for Plaintiffs.

Kevin M. Reynolds, Whitfield & Eddy, PLC, Des Moines, IA, Terrance M. Miller, Elizabeth Laudeman Moyo, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, Columbus, OH, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.

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                ¦TABLE OF CONTENTS¦
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                +-----------------+
                
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                ¦I.  ¦INTRODUCTION                                           ¦782   ¦
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                ¦    ¦A.  ¦Factual Background                                        ¦782    ¦
                +----+----+----------------------------------------------------------+-------¦
                ¦    ¦B.  ¦Procedural Background                                     ¦784    ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+---+
                ¦¦ ¦¦
                +---+
                
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                ¦II.  ¦LEGAL ANALYSIS                                                ¦785    ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
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                ¦    ¦A.  ¦Standards For Summary Judgment                            ¦785    ¦
                +----+----+----------------------------------------------------------+-------¦
                ¦    ¦B.  ¦Claims No Longer At Issue                                 ¦785    ¦
                +----+----+----------------------------------------------------------+-------¦
                ¦    ¦C.  ¦The “Manufacturing Defect” Claims                     ¦787    ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦    ¦1.  ¦Arguments of the parties                              ¦787   ¦
                +----+----+----+------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦2.  ¦“Manufacturing defect” standards                  ¦788   ¦
                +----+----+----+------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦3.  ¦Application of the standards                          ¦790   ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦    ¦   ¦a.  ¦Departure from intended design                    ¦790   ¦
                +----+----+---+----+--------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦   ¦b.  ¦Causation                                         ¦792   ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦D.  ¦The “Design Defect” Claim Against Ohlins              ¦792    ¦
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+--------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦   ¦   ¦1.  ¦Arguments of the parties                                    ¦793   ¦
                +---+---+----+------------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦   ¦   ¦2.  ¦Component manufacturer liability for a “design defect”  ¦793   ¦
                +---+---+----+------------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦   ¦   ¦3.  ¦Application of the standards                                ¦795   ¦
                +--------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
+----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦E.  ¦Punitive Damages Claims                                   ¦796    ¦
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+----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                ¦    ¦    ¦1.  ¦Arguments of the parties                              ¦796   ¦
                +----+----+----+------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦2.  ¦Standards for punitive damages under Iowa law         ¦797   ¦
                +----+----+----+------------------------------------------------------+------¦
                ¦    ¦    ¦3.  ¦Application of the standards                          ¦799   ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                
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                ¦      ¦                                                             ¦       ¦
                +------+-------------------------------------------------------------+-------¦
                ¦III.  ¦CONCLUSION                                                   ¦800    ¦
                +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+
                

In this diversity action under Iowa products liability law, arising from a motorcycle accident, I am asked to determine whether the plaintiffs are entitled to present to a jury both their design defect and manufacturing defect claims and, if so, whether the plaintiffs can assert either or both claims against the motorcycle manufacturer and the manufacturer of an adjustable steering damper incorporated into the motorcycle's steering mechanism. These questions, and others, are presented on the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

I. INTRODUCTION
A. Factual Background

As is my usual practice, I set forth here only those facts, disputed and undisputed, sufficient to put in context the parties' arguments concerning the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Unless otherwise indicated, the facts recited here are undisputed, at least for purposes of summary judgment. I will discuss additional factual allegations, and the extent to which they are or are not disputed or material, if necessary, in my legal analysis.

At about sunset on March 21, 2009, Scott Thompson was riding his 2007 Kawasaki Ninja ZX–10R motorcycle in a convoy with two friends on county road K–22 in Plymouth County, Iowa. One of Thompson's friends, Dave Lachioma, who was also riding a motorcycle, led the convoy, the other friend, Michael Welter, followed in his car, and Thompson brought up the rear on his motorcycle. While driving northbound on K–22, Thompson passed Welter, who was driving at 60 to 65 mph. A few seconds after Thompson passed him, Welter observed the taillight of Thompson's motorcycle wobble from side to side. Although Welter observed that it looked like Thompson was regaining control of his motorcycle, Thompson was tossed from the motorcycle, slid on his back, feet first, across the highway, and landed in a ditch on the west side of the highway. The motorcycle continued upright in the northbound lane for another several hundred feet, before exiting the highway on the east side. As a result of the accident, Thompson suffered a burst fracture at the T3–T4 vertebrae, causing paralysis below that level. Thompson died on December 25, 2011.

Turning to essential background on motorcycle performance, “kickback” occurs when there is a disturbance to the motorcycle, such as a gap in the pavement might cause, that creates handlebar vibrations. “Convergence” occurs when kickback decreases and disappears as the motorcycle continues to run. In contrast, “expansion” occurs when kickback continues to increase as the motorcycle continues to run. Kickback expansion, in turn, can turn into “wobble” of the motorcycle, but if kickback convergence occurs within an acceptable time frame, “wobble” is avoided. Wobble can make it difficult for a rider to control the motorcycle.

The parties agree that a “steering damper” is a device with which a motorcycle can be equipped for the purpose of minimizing kickback and bringing about faster convergence—indeed, Kawasaki expressly concedes that a steering damper is a “safety device” for that purpose. In general, the higher the dampening force in a steering damper, the quicker kickback can be dampened. A “dampening curve” provides the various dampening levels at a particular velocity (piston speed) for a particular steering damper. The dampening curves are generated through laboratory tests by a hydraulic machine referred to as a “dyno machine” (dynamometer). A steering damper may be adjustable, that is, have different “click positions,” which adjust the dampening to rider preferences. The plaintiffs allege that Thompson's motorcycle accident was the result of the defective design and/or manufacture of his 2007 Ninja ZX–10R motorcycle, because the steering damper on the motorcycle was insufficient and the motorcycle was not reasonably stable.

Defendant Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. (KHI), a Japanese company, admits that it is responsible for the design, developmental testing, and manufacture of the 2007 Kawasaki ZX–10R model motorcycle at issue in this case. Defendant Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. (KMC), a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Irvine, California, admits that it is responsible for the marketing of the motorcycle in question in the United States and the wholesale sale of the motorcycle in question to independent dealers in the United States. The parties agree that the motorcycle in question was equipped with a steering damper, as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) component, designed and manufactured by Ohlins Racing, AB (Ohlins), a Swedish company with its principal place of business in Väsby, Sweden.

The parties agree that both the 2006 model and the 2007...

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6 cases
  • Estate of Thompson v. Kawasaki Heavy Indus., Ltd.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • February 25, 2013
    ...And Order Regarding Defendants' Motions For Summary Judgment (docket no. 99), published at Thompson v. Kawasaki Heavy Indus., Ltd., 922 F.Supp.2d 780, 2013 WL 494453 (N.D.Iowa Feb. 11, 2013), at about sunset on March 21, 2009, Scott Thompson was riding his 2007 Kawasaki Ninja ZX–10R motorcy......
  • Nicholson v. Biomet, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • May 6, 2021
    ...proof of conduct that establishes a ‘willful and wanton disregard for the rights of another.’ " Estate of Thompson v. Kawasaki Heavy Indus., Ltd. , 922 F. Supp. 2d 780, 798 (N.D. Iowa 2013) (quoting Wilson v. IBP, Inc. , 558 N.W.2d 132, 142 (Iowa 1996)). "[P]unitive damages are appropriate ......
  • Dumler v. Wright Med. Tech., Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • January 26, 2018
    ...product at issue departed from the intended product design." See Doc. No. 7 at 12 (citing Estate of Thompson v. Kawasaki Heavy Indus., Ltd., 922 F. Supp. 2d 780, 789 (N.D. Iowa 2013)). Defendants argue plaintiffs have not pleaded any facts indicating how the Profemur Total Hip System that w......
  • Horn v. Airway Servs., Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • January 27, 2020
    ...damages can only be awarded when the plaintiff prevails on an underlying cause of action." Estate of Thompson v. Kawasaki Heavy Indus., Ltd.,922 F. Supp. 2d 780, 797 (N.D. Iowa 2013). The Court granted summary judgment on plaintiff's wrongful termination claims against both defendants. With......
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