Estep v. Ferrell Ford Lincoln-Mercury

Decision Date10 December 2008
Docket NumberNo. 33810.,33810.
Citation672 S.E.2d 345
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesTeresa ESTEP and Terry Estep, Her Husband, Plaintiffs Below, Appellees v. MIKE FERRELL FORD LINCOLN-MERCURY, INC., A West Virginia Corporation, and Ford Motor Company, A Foreign Corporation Doing Business in West Virginia, Defendants Below, Appellants.
Dissenting Opinion of Justice Benjamin January 9, 2009.
Syllabus by the Court

1. "`The appellate standard of review for the granting of a motion for a [judgment as a matter of law] pursuant to Rule 50 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure is de novo. On appeal, this court, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant party, will sustain the granting of a [judgment as a matter of law] when only one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict can be reached. But if reasonable minds could differ as to the importance and sufficiency of the evidence, a circuit court's ruling granting a [judgment as a matter of law] will be reversed.' Syllabus Point 3, Brannon v. Riffle, 197 W.Va. 97, 475 S.E.2d 97 (1996)." Syl. pt. 5, Smith v. First Community Bancshares, Inc., 212 W.Va. 809, 575 S.E.2d 419 (2002).

2. "[T]he ruling of a trial court in granting or denying a motion for a new trial is entitled to great respect and weight, [and] the trial court's ruling will be reversed on appeal [only] when it is clear that the trial court has acted under some misapprehension of the law or the evidence." Syl. pt. 4, in part, Sanders v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 159 W.Va. 621, 225 S.E.2d 218 (1976).

3. "A complaint against the seller of a motor vehicle states a cause of action under West Virginia law if the complaint does not allege that a vehicle defect caused a collision, but alleges only that the injuries sustained by the occupant as a result of the collision were enhanced by a design defect in the vehicle." Syl. pt. 1, Blankenship v. General Motors Corporation, 185 W.Va. 350, 406 S.E.2d 781 (1991).

4. "`A statutory provision which is clear and unambiguous and plainly expresses the legislative intent will not be interpreted by the courts but will be given full force and effect.' Syl. pt. 2, State v. Epperly, 135 W.Va. 877, 65 S.E.2d 488 (1951)." Syl. pt. 1, Sowa v. Huffman, 191 W.Va. 105, 443 S.E.2d 262 (1994).

5. In a crashworthiness or enhanced injury case involving a motor vehicle, the express provisions of West Virginia Code § 17C-15-49(d) (1993) (Repl.Vol.2004) limit the introduction of evidence of safety belt use in any civil action or proceeding for damages when, upon motion of the defendant, the trial court determines that failure to wear a safety belt was a proximate cause of the injuries sustained, and the trier of fact determines through use of a special interrogatory that (1) the injured party failed to wear a safety belt and (2) such omission constituted a failure to mitigate damages. Upon such findings, the trier of fact may reduce the injured party's recovery for medical damages by an amount not to exceed five percent. The statute further provides that introduction of safety belt use evidence is precluded when an injured party stipulates to a five percent reduction of medical damages.

6. West Virginia Code § 17C-15-49(d) (1993) (Repl.Vol.2004), providing for the limitation or preclusion of the use of safety belt evidence in any civil action or proceeding for damages, has a reasonable and rational basis related to a legitimate state interest and does not violate the due process guarantee of Article III, section 10 of the West Virginia Constitution.

7. "In this jurisdiction the general test for establishing strict liability in tort is whether the involved product is defective in the sense that it is not reasonably safe for its intended use. The standard of reasonable safeness is determined not by the particular manufacturer, but by what a reasonably prudent manufacturer's standards should have been at the time the product was made." Syl. pt. 4, Morningstar v. Black & Decker Manufacturing Co., 162 W.Va. 857, 253 S.E.2d 666 (1979).

8. "When a case involving conflicting testimony and circumstances has been fairly tried, ... the verdict of the jury will not be set aside unless plainly contrary to the weight of the evidence or without sufficient evidence to support it." Syl. pt. 4, in part, Laslo v. Griffith, 143 W.Va. 469, 102 S.E.2d 894 (1958).

9. "As a general rule, the refusal to give a requested jury instruction is reviewed [by this Court] for an abuse of discretion. By contrast, the question of whether a jury was properly instructed is a question of law, and the review is de novo." Syl. pt. 1, State v. Hinkle, 200 W.Va. 280, 489 S.E.2d 257 (1996).

Michael Bonasso, Susan Wong Romaine, Robert P. Lorea, Flaherty, Sensabaugh & Bonasso, P.L.L.C., Charleston, Craig A. Morgan, Law Office of Craig A. Morgan, Austin, TX, Pro Hac Vice, Counsel for the Appellants.

Guy R. Bucci, Stacy A. Jacques, Bucci, Bailey & Javins, L.C., Charleston, Pamela Lambert, Gilbert, Counsel for the Appellee.

McHUGH, Senior Status Justice:1

Ford Motor Company (hereinafter "Ford") appeals the March 14, 2007, order of the Circuit Court of McDowell County denying Ford's motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial in a product liability case.2 The motion was made after a jury found against Ford in a lawsuit brought by Teresa Estep (hereinafter "Ms. Estep") and Terry Estep alleging that their 1999 Ford Ranger was defective because the vehicle's air bags failed to deploy and protect Ms. Estep during a single vehicle crash.3 Ms. Estep was alone in the vehicle and was not wearing a safety belt at the time of the crash.

Ford maintains that the lower court erred by: (1) not permitting Ford to introduce any safety belt evidence at trial; (2) not granting judgment as a matter of law when Ms. Estep failed to prove that the vehicle was defective under the standards established by West Virginia law; (3) allowing Ms. Estep's experts to present evidence based entirely upon speculation and conjecture; and (4) incorrectly instructing the jury regarding compliance with federal standards raising a rebuttable presumption.

Having completed our careful examination of the record, and concluded our study of both oral and written arguments of counsel in light of the governing legal precepts, we affirm the decision of the circuit court.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

This case involves a single car accident in which Ms. Estep lost control of her Ford Ranger while driving alone. The accident occurred on October 5, 2000, near Panther, West Virginia, when the Ranger lost traction over an oil slick on the road. The vehicle went over an embankment, traveled 30 feet down a wooded hillside while crashing into a tree during the descent, and came to rest in the Tug Fork River. The air bag on the driver's side of the vehicle failed to deploy during the accident, and Ms. Estep sustained serious back injuries that required extensive surgery to repair.

The Estep complaint was filed on October 4, 2002. By order entered on January 27, 2006, the lower court granted the Esteps' motion in limine to exclude safety belt evidence from presentation at trial based upon the provisions of West Virginia Code 17C-15-49 (1993) (Repl.Vol.2004).4

The case proceeded to trial before a jury of six persons on November 13, 2006. During the week long trial, the jury heard testimony from witnesses for both Ford and Ms. Estep, including expert witnesses from both sides. Based upon the testimony of the experts in the record, whether an air bag deploys depends upon the type of collision involved. Ford produced evidence representing that the vehicle left the roadway, became airborne while proceeding over an embankment, struck and spun around a tree while descending through the air and forcefully landed on all four wheels in the riverbed. Ms. Estep presented evidence that the vehicle slid off the roadway, rolled down an embankment without becoming airborne where it squarely hit a two-foot wide tree, pivoted after colliding with the tree and then proceeded down the embankment until it gently landed in the riverbed. The significance of the type of crash and how the car descended the embankment related to the proximate cause of Ms. Estep's back injuries. Ford maintained that Ms. Estep's back was injured when the car landed on all four wheels in the riverbed; Ms. Estep maintained that her injury occurred as a result of her body being thrown forward over the steering wheel when the Ranger struck the tree.

The jury weighed the evidence and returned a verdict for Ms. Estep. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict in favor of Ms. Estep in the amount of $993,157.50. Thereafter, Ford filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. On March 14, 2007, the trial court entered an order denying the post-trial motion. From that order, Ford petitioned for appeal; this Court granted review on January 10, 2008.

II. Standard of Review

In this appeal, we are asked to review the lower court's denial of a post-verdict motion for judgment as a matter of law and the alternative motion for a new trial. The standard of review applied under either circumstance is settled.

A post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law was formerly called a motion notwithstanding the verdict. We previously observed that while the terminology changed when Rule 50 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure was amended in 1998, the standard of review of rulings regarding this motion was unaffected. Barefoot v. Sundale Nursing Home, 193 W.Va. 475, 482 n. 7, 457 S.E.2d 152, 159 n. 7 (1995). As a result, in syllabus point five of Smith v. First Community Bancshares, Inc., 212 W.Va. 809, 575 S.E.2d 419 (2002), we modified the terminology used in syllabus point three of Brannon v. Riffle, 197 W.Va. 97, 475 S.E.2d 97 (1996), to read as follows:

The appellate standard of review for the granting of a...

To continue reading

Request your trial
40 cases
  • CSX Transp., Inc. v. Smith
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • June 7, 2012
    ... ... 621, 225 S.E.2d 218 (1976). Syllabus point 2, Estep v. Mike Ferrell Ford LincolnMercury, Inc., 223 W.Va. 209, 672 S.E.2d 345 ... ...
  • Herbert J. Thomas Mem'l Hosp. Ass'n v. Nutter
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • November 17, 2016
    ... ... 621, 225 S.E.2d 218 (1976). Syl. Pt. 2, Estep v. Mike Ferrell Ford LincolnMercury, Inc. , 223 W.Va. 209, 672 S.E.2d 345 ... ...
  • JWCF, LP v. Farruggia
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • December 27, 2013
    ... ... 621, 225 S.E.2d 218 (1976).” Syl. Pt. 2, Estep v. Mike Ferrell Ford Lincoln–Mercury, Inc., 223 W.Va. 209, 672 S.E.2d ... ...
  • Peters v. Rivers Edge Mining, Inc., No. 34272 (W.Va. 3/27/2009)
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • March 27, 2009
    ... ... Va. 621, 225 S.E.2d 218 (1976)." Syllabus point 2, Estep v. Mike Ferrell Ford Lincoln-Mercury, Inc., ___ W. Va. ___, 672 S.E.2d ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT