Hyundai Motor America v. Magana

Decision Date30 October 2007
Docket NumberNo. 34630-3-II.,34630-3-II.
PartiesHYUNDAI MOTOR AMERICA; Hyundai Motor Company, Ricky and Angela Smith, husband and wife; and Dennis Nylander and Jane Doe Nylander, husband and wife, Appellants, v. Jesse MAGANA, Respondent.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals
170 P.3d 1165
141 Wn. App. 495
HYUNDAI MOTOR AMERICA; Hyundai Motor Company, Ricky and Angela Smith, husband and wife; and Dennis Nylander and Jane Doe Nylander, husband and wife, Appellants,
v.
Jesse MAGANA, Respondent.
No. 34630-3-II.
Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2.
October 30, 2007.

[170 P.3d 1167]

Heather K. Cavanaugh, Miller Nash LLP, Portland, OR, Michael Barr King, Talmadge Law Group PLLC, Tukwila, WA, for Appellants.

Paul W. Whelan, Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Coluccio, Seattle, WA, Peter O'neil, Attorney at Law, Seattle, WA, Derek Jay Vanderwood, Attorney at Law, Vancouver, WA, Alisa R. Brodkowitz, Brodkowitz Law, Seattle, WA, Charles Kenneth Wiggins, Kenneth Wendell Masters, Wiggins & Masters PLLC, Bainbridge Island, WA, Michael E. Withey, Law Offices of Michael Withey, Seattle, WA, for Respondent.

Douglas Fredrick Foley, Foley & Buxman PLLC, Vancouver, WA, for Defendant.

VAN DEREN, A.C.J.


¶ 1 Hyundai Motor Company and Hyundai Motor America (collectively, "Hyundai") appeal the trial court's default order of liability on Jesse Magana's personal injury claim due to Hyundai's willful discovery violations. It argues that the trial court erred (1) in finding that it willfully violated discovery orders, (2) by failing to consider lesser sanctions, and (3) by not requiring evidence of prejudice warranting the default sanction. It also challenges the trial court's award of interest from the date of the jury verdict on the underlying and unchallenged damages award. Finding no prejudice to Magana's ability to retry his case resulting from Hyundai's discovery violations, we reverse the default order and remand for trial; but we affirm the trial court's ruling that interest on damages runs from date of the verdict in the first trial if liability is found following retrial.

FACTS

I. Background1

¶ 2 "On February 15, 1997, Ricky Smith was driving a rented 1996 Hyundai Accent two-door hatchback." Magana v. Hyundai Motor Am., 123 Wash.App. 306, 309, 94 P.3d 987 (2004). Angela Smith and Magana were passengers. Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 309, 94 P.3d 987. To avoid an apparent collision

170 P.3d 1168

with an oncoming truck, Ricky Smith jerked the steering wheel, causing the car to "yaw" and leave the road. Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 309, 94 P.3d 987.

¶ 3 The car hit at least two trees and the resulting centrifugal force caused it to spin violently. The force threw Magana out of the car's rear window, 50 to 100 feet away from where the car finally stopped. "Magana's resulting injuries left him a paraplegic; Ricky Smith suffered a concussion, and Angela Smith broke her leg, collarbone, and shoulder blade." Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 309, 94 P.3d 987.

¶ 4 On February 8, 2000, Magana sued Hyundai, the Smiths, and the truck driver and his wife. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 4-5. Magana alleged that the car in which he was riding contained a "defective design [that] was a proximate cause of [his] injuries and damages" and that Ricky Smith's and [the truck driver's] negligent driving proximately caused the car accident. Magana, 123 Wash. App. at 309, 94 P.3d 987.

II. Discovery—2000 to 2001

¶ 5 Before the first trial in this case, Magana served a request for production on Hyundai that sought: "copies of any and all documents including but not limited to complaints, answers, police reports, photographs, depositions or other documents relating to complaints, notices, claims, lawsuits or incidents of alleged seat back failure on Hyundai products for the years 1980 to present." CP at 2379. Hyundai responded in April 2000, that "there have been no personal injury or fatality lawsuits or claims in connection with or involving the seat or seat back of the Hyundai Accent model years 1995 to 1999."2 CP at 2379.

¶ 6 But at the time Hyundai responded, there were at least three claims involving seat failure in 1995-1999 Accents.3 Exs. 5, 6, 30. Between the initial response and the first trial, Hyundai received four other claims involving seat failure in 1995-1999 Accents. Exs. 36-39.4 But Hyundai never supplemented its initial response to Magana's request for production. CP at 5317.

¶ 7 Magana also served an interrogatory requesting that Hyundai identify all Hyundai vehicles using the same or a substantially similar front passenger seat as the 1996 Accent. CP at 2376, 2383. Hyundai responded that the 1995-1999 Accents used the same front passenger seat and no other Hyundai vehicle used the same or a substantially similar right front seat. CP at 2376, 2383.

¶ 8 Throughout discovery, Hyundai refused to answer Magana's requests as written, providing responses that reworded and limited the scope of the original request. CP at 2312, 2379, 2384-85. But at no time did Hyundai seek a protective order narrowing the scope of discovery, nor did Magana move to compel answers from Hyundai before the first trial.

III. First Trial

¶ 9 On June 3, 2002, trial commenced. CP at 315-16. Magana did not attempt to introduce any evidence of the 21 other similar incidents of aggressive or violent deployment of the passenger side airbag that Hyundai produced during discovery. Br. of Appellant at 22. Instead, "Magana's primary trial theory was that if the seat back had been more rigid, it would not have given way when subjected to the centrifugal forces that caused the car to go into a spin." Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 318, 94 P.3d 987.

¶ 10 But Magana's counsel also explored an alternative theory of liability—"the lack of an integrated seat belt design"—with one of his expert witnesses. Magana, 123 Wash. App. at 311-12, 94 P.3d 987. The trial court initially overruled Hyundai's objection to this line of questioning. Magana, 123 Wash.App.

170 P.3d 1169

at 312, 94 P.3d 987. "Four days later, the trial court reconsidered its decision and ruled that it should have sustained Hyundai's objection to the expert witness's testimony about `an alternative seat design of an integrated seat belt."' Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 312, 94 P.3d 987 (citation omitted). The trial court did not inform the jury that the expert's testimony on this issue was not to be considered during deliberations. "In an apparent compromise effort, the court reaffirmed its ruling striking [the expert witness's] challenged testimony but declined to advise the jury of its actions because of concerns that an instruction [after the parties had rested] would highlight the evidence." Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 313, 94 P.3d 987.

¶ 11 "By a 10 to 2 vote, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Magana for over eight million dollars, attributing 60 percent of the fault to Hyundai and 40 percent to Ricky Smith." Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 313, 94 P.3d 987. And the jury also answered "Yes" to the following special verdict form question: "Did Defendant Hyundai supply a product that was not reasonably safe as designed?" Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 313, 94 P.3d 987 (quoting CP at 552).

IV. First Appeal

¶ 12 Hyundai appealed the trial court's decision not to instruct the jury about the expert's stricken testimony. Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 313, 94 P.3d 987.5 We reversed, explaining:

Ten jurors concluded that the vehicle was unreasonably unsafe; two jurors disagreed. We have no way of conclusively determining how many of the 10 relied on Magana's defective seat back theory and how many relied on [the expert's] broad and conclusory testimony that an integrated seat belt would have prevented Magana's ejection through the rear window.... Because one vote would have changed the outcome, the error in failing to advise the jury that the court had stricken [the expert's] seat belt evidence was neither trivial, formal, nor academic.

Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 319, 94 P.3d 987. We remanded "for retrial [of] liability issues regarding the occupant restraint system." Magana, 123 Wash.App. at 319, 94 P.3d 987.6 The mandate issued on April 4, 2005. CP at 748. The trial court set the case for a second trial on January 17, 2006.

V. 2005 Discovery Issues Following Remand

¶ 13 On September 13, 2005, Magana's counsel wrote Hyundai "with regard to discovery requests that need to be updated." CP at 4032. He asked Hyundai to update its interrogatory response because it:

seeks identification of Hyundai vehicles that use the same or substantially similar seat as the 1996 Hyundai. The response is that no other vehicles use a seat that is substantially similar. We have a recliner mechanism from another Hyundai vehicle that looks identical. It appears therefore that [Hyundai]'s response was not accurate. Please check and update as necessary.

CP at 4032.

¶ 14 He also asked that Hyundai update its response to the request for production that:

seeks documents relating to incidents of alleged seat back failure on Hyundai products. The response that I have is now more than 5 years old. Moreover, it is limited to the 1995-1996 Accent. For purposes of discovery, it should not be so limited, especially since it is clear that other Hyundai vehicles used the same recliner mechanism. Please check and update or amend the response as necessary.

CP at 4032.

¶ 15 Counsel for both parties then exchanged a series of letters discussing the scope of Magana's requests. Hyundai agreed to provide information relating to alleged seat back failure in 1995-1999 Accents and 1992-1995 Elantras; however, Magana continued to request all seat back failure

170 P.3d 1170

claims in Hyundai products for the year 1980 to present. CP at 4045-51.

¶ 16 On October 25, 2005, Hyundai supplemented its response to Magana's interrogatory by stating:

The 1995-1999 model year Hyundai Accents used the same or substantially similar right front seat as the 1996 Hyundai Accent. No other Hyundai model automobile uses the same or substantially similar design for the right front seat as the 1996 Hyundai Accent. Although not specifically requested by this interrogatory, [Hyundai] further responds that the 1992-1995 model year Hyundai Elantras had a recliner on the...

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