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Hickerson v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 16, 2016

Deborah Meek Hickerson, Plaintiff,
v.
Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., and Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd., Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. and Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. (collectively “Defendants”). (ECF Nos. 70, 70-1.) Plaintiff Deborah Meek Hickerson (“Plaintiff”) opposes Defendants’ Motion. (ECF No. 92.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court GRANTS Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 70, 70-1.)

         I. JURISDICTION

         Plaintiff is a citizen and resident of South Carolina. (ECF No. 19.) Defendants are corporations organized and existing under the laws of a state outside of South Carolina. (See ECF Nos. 22, 26.) This court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (2012) (providing that a federal district court only has “original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000 . . . and is between . . . citizens of different States . . . .”).

         II. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff explains that on or about June 30, 2012, she attended a gathering with friends on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, where individuals had been riding Yamaha VXS WaveRunners, personal watercrafts (“PWCs”), as part of the activities. Plaintiff also decided to ride one of the PWCs at a later time after she arrived. The PWC on which Plaintiff decided to ride contained an orange, black, and white warning label located below the handlebars in front of the PWC’s operator. The warning stated, in part:

WEAR PROTECTIVE CLOTHING: SEVERE INTERNAL INJURIES CAN OCCUR IF WATER IS FORCED INTO BODY CAVITIES AS A RESULT OF FALLING INTO WATER OR BEING NEAR JET THRUST NOZZLE. NORMAL SWIMWEAR DOES NOT ADEQUATELY PROTECT AGAINST FORCEFUL WATER ENTRY INTO RECTUM OR VAGINA. ALL RIDERS MUST WEAR A WET SUIT BOTTOM OR CLOTHING THAT PROVIDES EQUIVALENT PROTECTION (SEE OWNER’S MANUAL).

(ECF No. 70-5 at 3.) Beside that specific warning was an image of a person with clothing labeled as a “wet suit bottom.” (Id.)

         Toward the rear of the PWC was a second warning, which stated:

WARNING: SEVERE INTERNAL INJURIES CAN OCCUR IF WATER IS FORCED INTO BODY CAVITIES AS A RESULT OF BEING NEAR JET THRUST NOZZLE. WEAR A WETSUIT BOTTOM OR CLOTHING THAT PROVIDES EQUIVALENT PROTECTION. DO NOT BOARD PWC IF OPERATOR IS APPLYING THROTTLE.

(Id.)

         Plaintiff, wearing a bikini, proceeded to ride the PWC as a passenger with three other individuals without having read any of these warnings. (See generally ECF No. 70-2 at 4.) After Plaintiff was seated on the PWC, the driver accelerated, causing Plaintiff, the rearmost passenger, to fall off the back of the PWC and into the jet stream. The jet stream, which was propelling the PWC, caused Plaintiff to sustain very serious injuries to her anus, rectum, perineum, and vagina. (See ECF No. 19.)

         Alleging that the product included inadequate warnings and was defectively designed, Plaintiff brought this products liability action against Defendants under claims of strict liability and negligence as well as a claim for breach of warranty. (See generally id.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123- 24 (4th Cir. 1990). The non-moving party may not oppose a motion for summary judgment with mere allegations or denial of the movant’s pleading, but instead must “set forth specific facts” demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). All that is required is that “sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties’ differing versions of the truth at trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Mere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ennis v. Nat’l Ass’n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).

         “When considering motions from both parties for summary judgment, the court applies the same standard of review and so may not resolve genuine issues of material fact.” Monumental Paving & Excavating, Inc. v. Pa. Mfrs.’ Ass’n Ins. Co., 176 F.3d 794, 797 (4th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). “Instead, . . . [the court] consider[s] and rule[s] upon each party’s motion separately and ...


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