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Wilson v. Takata Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 20, 2019

SABRA M. WILSON, ET AL.
v.
TAKATA CORPORATION, ET AL.

         SECTION “B” (3)

          ORDER AND RASONS

         Defendants Nissan North America, Inc. (“NNA”) and Nissan Motor Company, Ltd. (“NML”) (collectively “Nissan”) filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Rec. Doc. 12. Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition. Rec. Doc. 18. Defendants sought, and were granted, leave to file a reply. Rec. Doc. 37.

         For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that defendants' motion for partial summary judgment on damages is GRANTED, dismissing plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Sabra Wilson alleges that she was driving her 2006 Nissan Sentra in Montz, Louisiana on March 21, 2015 when, during “stop-and-go” slowed traffic due to heavy smoke from a nearby marsh fire, she inadvertently rear-ended a vehicle in front of her. Rec. Doc. 11-5 at 287; Rec. Doc. 2 at 7. As a result of the impact, plaintiffs allege that the vehicle's front, passenger side airbag deployed violently and with overly excessive force and sound, expelling hot metal shrapnel and other parts of the inflator into the interior of the vehicle, striking Ms. Wilson's right side, face, and hands and causing her serious injuries. Id; Rec. Doc. 2 at 8. Plaintiffs also allege that the explosion resulted in significant and permanent property damage to the vehicle, owned by plaintiff William R. Wilson, and rendered the vehicle economically infeasible to repair. Rec. Doc. 11-5 at 288; Id. Plaintiffs were citizens of Saint Charles Parish, Louisiana at the time of the accident and the subject vehicle was purchased by Mr. Wilson in Metairie, Louisiana. Rec. Doc. 12-1 at 2.

         This case was transferred to the Southern District of Florida as part of the ongoing multidistrict litigation regarding Takata airbag products on March 2, 2016. Rec. Doc. 6. As directed by the MDL court, a Second Amended Consolidated Personal Injury Track Complaint (“SACC”) was filed that consolidated the claims of all personal injury plaintiffs in the multidistrict litigation, including the plaintiffs in this case. Rec. Doc. 11-5. The SACC asserted negligence and strict liability claims against Nissan defendants, “including design defect, manufacturing defect, and failure to warn, under the common law of the state whose law applies to the underling Personal Injury Track action or the statutory law of such state, including but not limited to the Louisiana Products Liability Act.” Rec. Doc. 11-5 at 209; Rec. Doc. 11-6 at 11-12. Plaintiffs seek damages for bodily injury, pain and suffering, physical impairment, mental anguish, past and future loss of capacity for enjoyment, past and future medical expenses, past lost wages and future lost wage-earning capacity, and damage to the vehicle. Rec. Doc. 11-6 at 11-12. Plaintiffs also seek punitive damages. Id. The Takata defendants were dismissed from this case on May 14, 2018 (Rec. Doc. 30), and the case was subsequently remanded back to this Court on November 19, 2018. Rec. Doc. 10.

         Defendants now file the instant motion for partial summary judgment to dismiss plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages with prejudice. Rec. Doc. 12. Plaintiffs filed an opposition in response. Rec. Doc. 18. Defendants filed a reply. Rec. Doc. 27.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When the movant bears the burden of proof, it must “demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact” using competent summary judgment evidence. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. But “where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence.” Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir. 1994). When the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the non-movant, who must show by “competent summary judgment evidence” that there is a genuine issue of material fact. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Lindsey, 16 F.3d at 618.

         Louisiana Civil Code Article 3542 provides the general rule on resolving conflicts of law in tort or delictual actions, stating that they shall be “governed by the law of the state whose policies would be most seriously impaired if its law were not applied.” La. C.C. Art. 3542. However, the commentary on Article 3542 explains that, where applicable, the specific rules of Articles 3543-3546 shall prevail over Article 3542, because they “are a priori legislative determinations of ‘the state whose policies would be most seriously impaired if its law were not applied'.” Id. at Subsection (b) to Revision Comments-1991. Article 3545 provides the specific choice-of-law rule for product liability cases. It states that the law of Louisiana shall apply:

(1) when the injury was sustained in this state by a person domiciled or residing in this state; or (2) when the product was manufactured, produced, or acquired in this state and caused the injury either in this state or in another state to a person domiciled in this state.

La. C.C. Art. 3545.

         Article 3547, however, provides an escape from the choice-of-law rules of Articles 3543-3546 for certain “exceptional cases”. Article 3547 states that the law applicable under Articles 3543-3546 shall not apply if:

from the totality of the circumstances of an exceptional case, it is clearly evident under the principles of Article 3542, that the policies of another state would be more seriously impaired if its law were not applied to the particular ...

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