Jamison v. Ford Motor Co., No. 4220.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtAnderson
Citation644 S.E.2d 755
PartiesEugene JAMISON and Delores Isaac, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Virnell Isaac, Appellants, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 4220.
Decision Date19 March 2007
644 S.E.2d 755
Eugene JAMISON and Delores Isaac, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Virnell Isaac, Appellants,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Respondent.
No. 4220.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Submitted March 1, 2007.
Decided March 19, 2007.
Rehearing Denied May 17, 2007.

[644 S.E.2d 759]

Stephanie P. McDonald and Samuel K. Allen, both of Charleston; and James E. Carter, of Savannah, GA, for Appellants.

J. Kenneth Carter, Jr., of Columbia; David R. Kelley and Wayne D. Struble, both of Minneapolis, MN; and Jeffery T. Gorcyca, of Detroit, MI, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, J.:


Eugene Jamison and Delores Isaac, individually and as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Virnell Isaac (collectively Jamison), appeal the circuit court's: (1) exclusion of expert testimony and video evidence; and (2) denial of Jamison's motions for sanctions and relief from judgment. We affirm.1

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In July 1998, Virnell Isaac suffered major injuries to her liver when the 1993 Escort she was driving was involved in a frontal, angular collision with another car. Isaac died several days later as a result of the injuries sustained in the accident.

Jamison filed a wrongful death action against Ford Motor Company (Ford) alleging, in relevant part, that Isaac suffered fatal injuries because Ford negligently designed and implemented the driver's occupant protection system.2 Ford equipped the 1993 Escort with a driver's side passive restraint system employing various components that worked collectively to protect the driver in frontal, angular collisions. The passive restraint system components included: (1) an automatic, motorized shoulder belt that positioned itself over the occupant without any action by the occupant; (2) a seat pan; (3) a knee bolster; and (4) an energy absorbing car body. The restraint system required no affirmative action by the driver, making it completely passive and in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208. The 1993 Escort was additionally equipped with a manual lap belt that required affirmative action from the passenger or driver to engage it. Jamison specifically complained that Ford negligently designed and implemented the various components of the restraint system, including the manual lap belt, the knee bolster, and the seat pan.

During discovery Jamison requested crash test reports and full videos of 1991 through 1993 Ford Escort crash tests. Ford responded by producing a summary of certification tests, but referred Jamison to Mazda, the company that conducted the requested crash tests, for the detailed reports and actual videos. Ford provided 1994 through 1996 Ford Escort crash test reports and videos. However, the 1994 through 1996 models, unlike the 1991 through 1993 models, were

644 S.E.2d 760

equipped with driver and passenger side air-bag restraint systems.

In October 2003, Jamison filed a "Motion to Compel Production of Documents." Jamison asked the court to order Ford's production of the 1991 through 1993 test reports and videos. Additionally, Jamison urged that Ford be required to provide complete video tests, noting that the videos Ford had produced were "missing significant portions of the crash tests." Jamison sought sanctions against Ford for discovery abuses, claiming Ford had intentionally delayed discovery by submitting duplicative and nonresponsive documents. The circuit court agreed Ford must supply the materials requested; however, the court refrained from imposing sanctions due to Ford's representation that the documents would be delivered. Ford subsequently surrendered a "small group of Mazda crash tests" and certified that all materials from Mazda regarding the crash tests had been yielded.

Ford filed motions in limine to exclude certain theories of liability Jamison asserted. Specifically, Ford contended (1) Jamison was preempted by Federal law from arguing Ford's choice of the passive restraint system installed in the Escort was defective, i.e. that another type of restraint system would have prevented Isaac's injuries; (2) Jamison was preempted from challenging the geometry of the manual lap belt design; and (3) Jamison's claim that the manual lap belt design was defective should be excluded because no reasonable evidence existed to indicate Isaac wore the manual lap belt and that its defective design proximately caused her injuries.

The circuit court ruled: (1) federal regulations preempted Jamison from challenging Ford's choice of restraint system; (2) testimony suggesting a manual lap belt should have been a component of the 1993 Escort's passive restraint system was excluded because such evidence challenged Ford's choice of restraint system; and (3) Jamison was allowed to present evidence that the design of the passive restraint system was defective; however, any testimony that the passive restraint system was defective without a manual lap belt was preempted.

In January 2004, Jamison filed a motion for sanctions against Ford for alleged ongoing discovery abuse. Jamison argued a default judgment should be entered against Ford for willful and intentional failure to produce certain crash test data that Jamison received on January 19, 2004 from another source.3 The circuit court declined to enter a default judgment without having an opportunity to review the evidence and determine its prejudicial effect.

Immediately prior to trial, the circuit court again considered various pending motions, including Jamison's motion for default judgment. At that time, Jamison informed the circuit court that additional videotapes of crash tests showing more views of occupant kinematics in the 1993 Escort had been discovered. Jamison urged the court to sanction Ford by prohibiting references to the 1993 Escort's compliance with federal regulations. The circuit court held Jamison failed to demonstrate Ford's conduct warranted such sanctions, and the motion was denied.

During the pre-trial hearing, the circuit court revisited the issue of Jamison's defective lap belt claim. The circuit court held "[t]he lap belt ... argument is preempted," and Jamison cannot "criticize the lap belt." However, the court held that "the effectiveness of [the passive restraint] system, what it was designed and intended to do is subject to challenge...." The court confirmed that, in order to prove negligence based on any defective restraint system, Jamison must prove proximate cause.

The case was tried before a jury in February 2004. Jamison attempted to introduce a crash test video conducted on a 1995 vehicle that was identical to Isaac's 1993 Escort, except the 1995 vehicle was equipped with air bags. Jamison submitted that the tests demonstrated occupant kinematics. Ford objected to the tests based on the prejudicial effect of the air bag. The circuit court excluded the video under Rule 403, SCRE, concluding

644 S.E.2d 761

the probative value of the video was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, and potential to mislead the jury. The jury returned a verdict in Ford's favor.

Subsequently, Jamison received a brochure advertising a 1993 European Escort. Jamison filed a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment arguing the newly discovered evidence demonstrated the feasibility of an alternative design and further substantiated claims of Ford's discovery abuse. The circuit court found the brochure was cumulative and Jamison was not prejudiced by nondisclosure of the brochure. Jamison's motion for relief from judgment was denied

LAW/ANALYSIS
I. Expert Testimony

Jamison argues the circuit court erred in excluding expert testimony relating to the geometry and design of the manual lap belt Ford had installed in the 1993 Escort. Specifically, Jamison maintains the circuit court erred as a matter of law in relying on its interpretation of Geier v. Am. Honda Motor Co., Inc., 529 U.S. 861, 120 S.Ct. 1913, 146 L.Ed.2d 914 (2000), that any challenge to the passive restraint system based upon the alleged defective manual lap belt was preempted. We disagree.

Ford contends this issue is not preserved for our review. The failure to make a proffer of excluded evidence will preclude review on appeal. State v. Simmons, 360 S.C. 33, 46, 599 S.E.2d 448, 454 (2004); TNS Mills, Inc. v. S.C. Dep't of Revenue, 331 S.C. 611, 503 S.E.2d 471 (1998). Generally, a party must request the opportunity to present an expert witness in order for the issue to be preserved for appellate review. State v. Beam, 336 S.C. 45, 51-52, 518 S.E.2d 297, 301 (Ct.App.1999). It is well settled that a reviewing court may not consider error claimed in the exclusion of testimony unless the record on appeal shows fairly what the rejected testimony would have been. State v. Roper, 274 S.C. 14, 20, 260 S.E.2d 705, 708 (1979). However, this rule regarding proffers has been relaxed where the appellate court is able determine from the record what the testimony was intended to show and that prejudice clearly exists. State v. Jenkins, 322 S.C. 360, 367, 474 S.E.2d 812, 816 (Ct. App.1996).

In this case, the record sufficiently identifies the testimony Jamison sought to introduce regarding the use of and alleged defects of the manual lap belt. Furthermore, as Jamison averred, the exclusion of expert testimony regarding the manual lap belt prevented Jamison from being able to "properly criticize the seatbelt design or to explain the full geometry of the defects in the belt system." Initially, Jamison's "primary criticism [was] aimed at lower torso restraint in this configuration, or lack thereof." The improper exclusion of the manual lap belt evidence would indubitably prejudice Jamison. Therefore, this issue is preserved for appellate review.

On the merits, the admissibility of an expert's testimony is a matter within the circuit court's sound discretion. Fields v. Regional Med. Ctr. Orangeburg, 363 S.C. 19, 25, 609 S.E.2d 506, 509...

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30 practice notes
  • Limehouse v. Hulsey, Opinion No.  4805
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 10, 2011
    ...Richardson v. Donald Hawkins Const., Inc., 381 S.C. 347, 352, 673 S.E.2d 808, 811 (2009); Jamison v. Ford Motor Co., 373 S.C. 248, 268, 644 S.E.2d 755, 765 (Ct. App. 2007). In this case, the trial court found the testimony to be relevant because it was "within the scope of how it affected [......
  • Limehouse v. Hulsey, No. 4805.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 12, 2011
    ...Richardson v. Donald Hawkins Const., Inc., 381 S.C. 347, 352, 673 S.E.2d 808, 811 (2009); Jamison v. Ford Motor Co., 373 S.C. 248, 268, 644 S.E.2d 755, 765 (Ct.App.2007). In this case, the trial court found the testimony to be relevant because it was “within the scope of how it affected [Li......
  • WILLIAMSON v. MAZDA MOTOR of America INC., No. G038845.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 11, 2009
    ...Motor Company, Inc., supra, 529 U.S. at pp. 885-886, 120 S.Ct. 1913; see also Jamison v. Ford Motor Co. (S.C.Ct.App.2007) 373 S.C. 248, 644 S.E.2d 755, 764 [“ ‘compliance with performance criteria does not immunize manufacturers from common law liability arising from any defects in the prod......
  • Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., No. G038845.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 22, 2008
    ...(Geier v. American Honda Motor Co., supra, 529 U.S. at pp. 885-886; see also Jamison v. Ford Motor Co. (Ct.App. 2007) 373 S.C. 248, 265 [644 S.E.2d 755, 764] ["`compliance with performance criteria does not immunize manufacturers from common law liability arising from any defects in the pro......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Limehouse v. Hulsey, Opinion No.  4805
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 10, 2011
    ...Richardson v. Donald Hawkins Const., Inc., 381 S.C. 347, 352, 673 S.E.2d 808, 811 (2009); Jamison v. Ford Motor Co., 373 S.C. 248, 268, 644 S.E.2d 755, 765 (Ct. App. 2007). In this case, the trial court found the testimony to be relevant because it was "within the scope of how it affected [......
  • Limehouse v. Hulsey, No. 4805.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 12, 2011
    ...Richardson v. Donald Hawkins Const., Inc., 381 S.C. 347, 352, 673 S.E.2d 808, 811 (2009); Jamison v. Ford Motor Co., 373 S.C. 248, 268, 644 S.E.2d 755, 765 (Ct.App.2007). In this case, the trial court found the testimony to be relevant because it was “within the scope of how it affected [Li......
  • WILLIAMSON v. MAZDA MOTOR of America INC., No. G038845.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 11, 2009
    ...Motor Company, Inc., supra, 529 U.S. at pp. 885-886, 120 S.Ct. 1913; see also Jamison v. Ford Motor Co. (S.C.Ct.App.2007) 373 S.C. 248, 644 S.E.2d 755, 764 [“ ‘compliance with performance criteria does not immunize manufacturers from common law liability arising from any defects in the prod......
  • Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., No. G038845.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 22, 2008
    ...(Geier v. American Honda Motor Co., supra, 529 U.S. at pp. 885-886; see also Jamison v. Ford Motor Co. (Ct.App. 2007) 373 S.C. 248, 265 [644 S.E.2d 755, 764] ["`compliance with performance criteria does not immunize manufacturers from common law liability arising from any defects in the pro......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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