Fields v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 46805

CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma
Writing for the CourtHODGES; WILLIAMS
Citation555 P.2d 48,84 A.L.R. 3d 1199
PartiesDavid FIELDS, Appellee, v. VOLKSWAGEN OF AMERICA, INC., a corporation and Volkswagen South Central Distributors, Inc., a Texas Corporation, Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 46805,46805
Decision Date27 July 1976

Page 48

555 P.2d 48
84 A.L.R.3d 1199
David FIELDS, Appellee,
VOLKSWAGEN OF AMERICA, INC., a corporation and Volkswagen
South Central Distributors, Inc., a Texas
Corporation, Appellants.
No. 46805.
Supreme Court of Oklahoma.
July 27, 1976.
Rehearing Denied Oct. 19, 1976.

John W. Norman, Lampkin, Wolfe, Burger, Abel, McCaffrey & Norman, Oklahoma City, for appellee.

John W. Herrick, Ft. Worth, Tex., Elliott C. Fenton and Larry D. Ottaway, Fenton, Fenton, Smith, Reneau & Moon, Oklahoma City, for appellants.

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HODGES, Vice Chief Justice.

This is an action for damages for personal injuries sustained by appellee, David Fields (Fields), when his 1971 Volkswagen overturned while he was attempting to negotiate a left hand curve. Fields contends the steering wheel locked while he was driving and he was unable to keep the car on the road. The automobile was equipped with an ignition lock system that prevented the steering wheel from being turned while the ignition was off. It is alleged this system was faulty due to a defect in the locking mechanism which was present when the car left the factory and that the failure of this system was the actual and proximate cause of the accident.

Appellants, Volkswagen of America, the importer of the car, and Volkswagen South Central Distributor, Inc., who sold the car to the Texas Dealer where Fields purchased it, denied the jurisdiction of the court and that there was defect as alleged, raising the defense that the sole and proximate cause of the accident was Fields' own negligence and misuse of the automobile.

The court, with the concurrence of the parties, ordered a bifurcated trial. The case was first tried to a jury on the issue of liability prior to any consideration by the jury of the issue of damages, and the jury returned a verdict for Fields. In the subsequent damage trial, the jury returned a verdict for $150,000.00.

The court denied appellants' motions for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial. Appellants appeal, raising several propositions of error which are questions of first impression in this jurisdiction.

The appellants first assert the trial court lacked jurisdiction because neither of the appellants is licensed to do business in Oklahoma and the cause of action did not arise from their doing business in Oklahoma.

The applicable Oklahoma statute upon which in personam jurisdiction of non-resident defendants is based is 12 O.S.1971, § 1701.03(a)(4). 1 Jurisdiction under the long-arm statute is predicated on foreign state activity which results in forum state harm. 2 The intention in Oklahoma is to extend the jurisdiction of Oklahoma courts over nonresidents to the outer limits permitted by the due process requirements of the United States Constitution. 3 The Oklahoma statute gives the courts of Oklahoma personal jurisdiction over any non-domiciliary who can be reached constitutionally as having had sufficient state contacts measured by the jurisdictional yardstick established by the United States Supreme Court in International Shoe Co., v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945). 4 Marathon Battery v. Kilpatrick, 418 P.2d 900 (Okl.1965), accorded this decision and

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determined the test of jurisdiction of the courts of the State of Oklahoma over a non-domesticated, foreign corporation is not solely or necessarily premised on whether the acts of the corporation amount to doing business within this state, but whether the non-resident had significant contacts with the State. 5 This concept was expanded under B. K. Sweeney Co. v. Colorado Interstate Gas Co., 429 P.2d 759, 763 (Okl.1967), where the court held the State of Oklahoma may obtain personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants in suits resulting from voluntary acts or transactions which have either directly or indirectly created minimum contacts with the forum state, however limited or transient such contacts may be since the state has a manifest interest in providing effective means of redress when harm is caused within its territory. 6 The result of these decisions is that significant contacts which result in a tortious episode in this state render persons answerable in Oklahoma courts in accordance with Oklahoma laws.

The appellee met the burden of proving jurisdiction. It is not necessary to jurisdiction that the car be sold in Oklahoma. At the time of distribution, the appellants could reasonably have anticipated that the car might be used or sold in Oklahoma. Appellants advertise in national magazines, or network television and participate in an advertising fund for the State of Oklahoma which clearly involves engaging in the active solicitation of business in this state and subjects them to the provisions of 12 O.S.1971 § 1701.03(a)(4).

An action in strict liability or manufacturers' products liability is available against both manufacturer and retailer. Processors, assemblers and all other persons who are similarly situated in processing and distribution are included in the definition of manufacturer. 7

We hold that the court had jurisdiction over both defendants.

The parties agreed the trial should be bifurcated. Bifurcation is a time saving device which allows the issue of liability to be tried initially. The trial proceeds to the second stage concerning damages only if the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff on the issue of liability.

Oklahoma does allow a new trial to be granted on the issue of damages only. 8 This procedure has been followed in subsequent cases where it is clear the error in assessing damages did not affect the entire verdict. 9

In 1963, Oklahoma adopted two statutes that might be construed to permit this type of trial in multiple claims actions, 12 O.S.1971

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§§ 323 and 243. 10 None are similar to Federal Rule 42(b), 11 allowing the trial judge on his own initiative to order separate trials in all cases, and we do not reach the validity of that practice at this time.

Although there is a wide diversity among jurisdictions regarding the propriety of separate trials on the issues of liability and damages, 12 there seems to be no reason not to allow separate trials hwere it would not be prejudicial to either side, and where both sides are in agreement. Separation of the damages issue promises convenience, potential economy, clearer jury understanding of the issues, less embracive closing arguments, and a shorter jury charge at each stage of the trial. 13 Appellants did not challenge and concurred in separation. Where both parties agree to bifurcation, we hold it to be valid.

Appellants do not appeal the factum of bifurcation, they do, however, allege a violation of the Okl.Const. art. 2 § 19 14 because, although ten jurors returned a verdict for appellee on the question of liability, they were not the same ten jurors who fixed his recovery at $150,000.00 damages. They claim this is a reversible inconsistency because the Constitution requires three-fourths of the jury concur in

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the verdict, and that the requisite number of the same jurors must agree to all essential answers. We do not agree.

Oklahoma has not ruled on the issue of whether the same jurors must sign both verdicts in a bifurcated trial. To our knowledge no other state has ruled on this precise question, nor does there appear to be any federal interpretation of Rule 42(b) directly applicable. However, the validity of this practice may be inferred from several Federal Rules Decisions. Romer v. Baldwin, 36 F.R.D. 259 (E.D.Pa.1963) and Driver v. Phillips, 36 F.R.D. 261 (E.D.Pa.1964) both hold that a court is authorized to appoint additional jurors to hear the liability issue so that if a juror who has been part of the panel returning the liability verdict becomes ill or otherwise incapacitated the alternate juror will be available to decide the damages. If this should happen, the second verdict would of necessity, be signed by a different jury.

Although the case of Ward v. Weekes, 107 N.J.Super. 351, 258 A.2d 379, 381 (1969) involves liability and damages encompassed in a single verdict and a single trial, and in the instant case there were two trials and two separate and distinct verdicts, we believe the reasoning is applicable to the problem before us. The court held a ten juror verdict was valid even though the same ten of twelve jurors did not agree on the issue of liability and damages. 15 The court said:

To adopt the reasoning that the one or two jurors voting against liability . . . cannot consistently participate in the solution of the remaining issue of damages is untenable. It presupposes that because such dissenting juror concluded plaintiff was not entitled to recover, he would then prejudice the other jurors in their consideration of the damage issue--it is inferred he would hold out for a minimum verdict for plaintiff resulting in a compromise, or otherwise improper, verdict. We see no sound reason to assume that such juror would violate his oath of office and not render 'a true verdict according to the evidence.' It is more proper to assume that when a juror is outvoted on an issue (liability) he will accept the outcome and continue to deliberate with the other juros honestly and conscientiously to decide the remaining issues . . .

. . . Assuming that two jurors dissent on the liability issue, should the judge instruct the jury that the two dissenters must leave the room so as not to taint the remaining issues to be decided? Or should he instruct them to remain but refrain from participating in any further discussion and disposition of the case? Either alternative would be an unwarranted and unreasonable construction of the previously cited provisions in the Constitution, statute and rules. It would improperly remove two minds from considering all the issues to be resolved in reaching a verdict. . . .

In the instant case ten jurors returned a verdict for the plaintiff on the question of liability. If...

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127 practice notes
  • Ellsworth v. Sherne Lingerie, Inc., No. 130
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 1 Septiembre 1984
    ...53 A.D.2d 291, 385 N.Y.S.2d 328 (1976); Olson v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 256 N.W.2d 530 (N.D.1977); Fields v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 555 P.2d 48 (Okl.1976); Findlay v. Copeland Lumber Co., 265 Or. 300, 509 P.2d 28 (1973); General Motors Corp. v. Hopkins, 548 S.W.2d 344 5 See also, W. Pro......
  • Hough v. Leonard, No. 75755
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • 21 Septiembre 1993
    ...of this state and the Constitution of the United States." It is a codification of our holding in Fields v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 555 P.2d 48, 52 (Okla.1976), that the intent of the Oklahoma long-arm statute, is to extend the jurisdiction of Oklahoma courts over non-residents to the o......
  • Meyer v. City of Des Moines, No. 90-93
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 18 Septiembre 1991
    ...270 (1985); Kopischke v. First Continental Corp., 187 Mont. 471, 498-500, 610 P.2d 668, 683 (1980); Fields v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 555 P.2d 48, 62 In Law v. Superior Court, 157 Ariz. 147, 755 P.2d 1135 (1988), the court attempted to refute these reasons. The court noted that over a ......
  • Millette v. Radosta, No. 78-1845
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • 24 Abril 1980
    ...A. G. (App.Div.1977), 151 N.J.Super. 422, 376 A.2d 1317; Fields v. Page 835 [39 Ill.Dec. 244] Volkswagen of America, Inc. (Okl.1976), 555 P.2d 48; Barry v. Manglass (1976), 55 A.D.2d 1, 389 N.Y.S.2d 870), and that plaintiff failed to produce such evidence in this case. First we do not agree......
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127 cases
  • Schabe v. Hampton Bays Union Free School Dist.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • 1 Octubre 1984
    ...v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, 31 Cal.3d 759, 183 Cal.Rptr. 852, 647 P.2d 128, supra; Fields v. Volkswagen of America, 555 P.2d 48 ). With the dissenter stripped of the power to affect further answers, the six-person jury selected to decide the issues becomes for all practical pur......
  • Ellsworth v. Sherne Lingerie, Inc., 130
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 1 Septiembre 1984
    ...53 A.D.2d 291, 385 N.Y.S.2d 328 (1976); Olson v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 256 N.W.2d 530 (N.D.1977); Fields v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 555 P.2d 48 (Okl.1976); Findlay v. Copeland Lumber Co., 265 Or. 300, 509 P.2d 28 (1973); General Motors Corp. v. Hopkins, 548 S.W.2d 344 5 See also, W. Pro......
  • Kopischke v. First Continental Corp., 14810
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • 22 Mayo 1980
    ...Md. 215, 230 A.2d 629; D.W. Boutwell Butane Company v. Smith (Miss.1971), 244 So.2d 11; Fields v. Volkswagen of America, Inc. (Okl.1976), 555 P.2d 48; King Son Wong v. Carnation Company (Tex.Civ.App.1974), 509 S.W.2d 385; Lawrence v. Westchester Fire Insurance Company (La.App.1968), 213 So.......
  • Precopio v. City of Detroit, Dept. of Transp., Docket No. 64690
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 23 Diciembre 1982
    ...v. Yamaha International Corp., 531 F.2d 968, 972-973 (CA10, 1976). See also state court cases: Fields v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 555 P.2d 48, 53 (Okl., 1976); Rodrigues v. Hawaii, 472 P.2d 509, 521 (Haw., 1970); Patrick v. Sedwick, 413 P.2d 169 (Alaska, 1966); Morrison v. Alaska, 516 P......
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