JOSEPH M. DORTCH
JANE DOE & CHRYSLER GROUP, LLC
from the Twenty-Third Judicial District Court In and for the
Parish of Ascension State of Louisiana Docket Number 107, 095
Honorable Katherine Tess Stromberg, Judge
E. Adams Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant
Joseph M. Dortch
G. Hebert Eugene Terk Charles S. Smith New Orleans, LA
Counsel for Defendant/ Appellee FCA U.S. LLC (formerly known
as Chrysler Group, LLC)
BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., GUIDRY, AND McCLENDON, JJ.
products liability action, the plaintiff appeals the
dismissal of his claims against an automobile manufacturer by
summary judgment. For the following reasons, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
summer of 2012, Joseph M. Dortch drove his 2012 Jeep Cherokee
off the road as he was traveling west on a roadway in
Ascension Parish. According to Mr. Dortch, an unknown driver
crossed the center line of the two-lane highway, causing him
to drive off the roadway into an adjacent ditch. Mr. Dortch
sustained several injuries and was transported from the
accident scene by ambulance. Following the accident, Mr.
Dortch filed a claim with his automobile liability insurer,
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. The vehicle was
declared a total loss by State Farm, which subsequently sold
the vehicle for salvage in August 2012.
29, 2013, Mr. Dortch filed a petition for damages against
Jane Doe, the unknown driver of a small, white automobile
that Mr. Dortch alleged swerved into his lane of travel and
forced him to drive off the road. Mr. Dortch also named
Chrysler Group, LLC as a defendant in the petition, alleging
that the failure of any of the front or side airbags to
deploy was an additional proximate and contributing cause of
the injuries he sustained in the accident. Mr. Dortch
therefore claimed that the airbags in his vehicle were
unreasonably dangerous. Chrysler Group, LLC generally denied
any liability in answer to Mr. Dortch's petition.
February 17, 2016, FCA U.S. LLC, which was formerly the
Chrysler Group, LLC, filed a motion for summary judgment,
alleging that Mr. Dortch had insufficient evidence to carry
his burden of proof at trial, because he no longer possessed
the 2012 Jeep Cherokee nor any parts of the vehicle,
including the allegedly defective airbag system. In support
of its motion for summary judgment, FCA U.S. LLC pointed out
that Mr. Dortch had raised three of the four exclusive,
theories of recovery provided under the Louisiana Products
Liability Act (LPLA), La. R.S. 9:2800.51-2800.60. See La.
R.S. 9:2800.52. Relative to the three theories raised, FCA
U.S. LLC pointed out the following:
As to his first theory, defective construction or
composition, plaintiff did not show any deviation from any
specifications or performance standards for the vehicle or
from otherwise identical vehicles by the same manufacturer, a
required element of proof under the LPLA. Second, regarding
design defect, he failed to identify any alternative designs
that he contends could have prevented his injury, also as
required under the LPLA. Third, as to inadequate warnings,
plaintiff did not identify a specific warning he contends is
inadequate or explain the manner in which the airbag system
was unreasonably dangerous to an extent beyond that which
would be contemplated by an ordinary user of the product, all
required elements of a warnings claim under the LPLA.
Indeed, plaintiff has not been able to produce the most
important piece of evidence in an automotive products
liability case: the subject vehicle.
U.S. LLC conceded that the airbags did not deploy in Mr.
Dortch's accident; nevertheless, it argued
"plaintiff has no evidence that the subject
vehicle's airbags should have deployed in the accident,
that the nondeployment was due to a product defect, or that
the so-called product defect caused his injuries."
Further, FCA U.S. LLC argued that plaintiff would be unable
to meet his burden of proving that the doctrine of res
ipsa loquitur applied.
Dortch filed an opposition to the motion for summary judgment
asserting a list of five facts that he contended to be
genuinely disputed and offering photographs and an inspection
report produced by State Farm and his own affidavit as
evidence of the extent of the damage sustained by the subject
vehicle and of the fact that the airbags in the subject
vehicle did not deploy. In addition to citing the law on
res ipsa loquitur, Mr. Dortch further argued that
under the current version of La. C.C.P. art. 966, ...