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Davenport v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America Ltd.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

January 24, 2018

Devon Davenport Plaintiff,
v.
Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd. and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Defendants Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd. and The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company's (collectively “Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 72). Plaintiffs Maria Davenport, Arnold Davenport, Demorio Davenport, and Devon Davenport (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed a response in opposition to Defendants' Motion (ECF No. 85). For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 72).

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 18, 2015, Plaintiffs Maria Davenport, Arnold Davenport, and Demorio Davenport filed a Complaint against Defendants. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff Maria Davenport alleged she suffered injuries while she was driving a 1996 Ford Explorer when the tread on the left rear tire (“Subject Tire”) separated from the car, causing it to overturn. (Id.) Plaintiff Demorio Davenport was a passenger in the car and he also alleges that he suffered injuries during the incident. (Id.) Plaintiff Arnold Davenport alleges loss of consortium. (Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiffs Maria Davenport, Arnold Davenport, and Demorio Davenport initially filed a Complaint in the Aiken County Court of Common Pleas (“Aiken County”). (ECF Nos. 34-1, 34- 3.) Plaintiff Devon Davenport filed a separate Complaint relating to the alleged incident in Aiken County. (Id.) These Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the Aiken County Complaints on September 10, 2015, and re-filed their Complaints in this court on September 18, 2015, with Plaintiffs Maria Davenport, Arnold Davenport, and Demorio Davenport joined in one Complaint. (ECF No. 34-4.) Plaintiff Devon Davenport individually filed a second Complaint in this court (Devon Davenport v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd. and The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Civil Action No.: 1:15-cv-03752-JMC). (Id.) On August 2, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Consolidate both cases. (ECF No. 34.) On October 25, 2016, the court granted Defendants' Motion to Consolidate for all purposes, including trial. (ECF No. 46 at 5.)

         In the present Motion, Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment because: (1) Plaintiffs' claims fail because the Subject Tire was not essentially in the same condition as when it left the manufacturer's hands; (2) Plaintiffs' warnings claims fail due to a lack of supporting evidence; and (3) Plaintiffs cannot meet the requisite standard warranting punitive damages. (ECF No. 72.) Plaintiffs negate Defendants' argument by stating that: (1) there is evidence the Subject Tire was, at the time of the accident, in essentially the same condition as when it left Defendants' hands; (2) there is sufficient evidence of Plaintiffs' failure to warn product liability theory; and (3) there is evidence to support an award of punitive damages. (ECF No. 85.) Subsequently, Defendants filed a reply, essentially restating their initial position in their Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 94.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). “[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ‘the evidence of the nonmovant[s] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [their] favor.'” Tolan v. Cotton, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per curiam) (brackets omitted) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving part[ies], ” and a fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that no genuine issues of material fact exist. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once this threshold showing has been made, the non-moving party cannot survive summary judgment by resting on the allegations in the pleadings. Rather, the non-moving party must provide specific, material facts giving rise to a genuine issue. See id. at 324. Under this standard, the mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (1986).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Subject Tire's Condition

         Under South Carolina law, “[i]n any products liability action, a plaintiff must establish three things: (1) he was injured by the product; (2) the product was in essentially the same condition at the time of the accident as it was when it left the hands of the defendant; and (3) the injury occurred because the product was in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user.” Graves v. CAS Med. Sys., Inc., 735 S.E.2d 650, 658 (S.C. 2012). Plaintiffs must establish each of these three elements regardless of whether the theory under which they seek to recover is strict liability, breach of warranty, or negligence. Sauls v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 846 F.Supp.2d 499, 502 (D.S.C. 2012) (citing Holst v. KCI Konecranes Int'l Corp., 699 S.E.2d 715, 719 (S.C. Ct. App. 2010)).

         Defendants contend that “Plaintiffs cannot meet their burden that the Subject Tire, over 11 years old at the time of the accident with an unknown service life and substantial weathering, uneven tread wear, and cracking, was in essentially the same condition at the time of the accident as when it left the hands of Defendants.” (ECF No. 72 at 13.) Plaintiffs disagree, asserting that the Subject Tire failed due to the lack of a full nylon ply cap, an inadequate wedge, and an absence of adequate aging resistance. (ECF No. 85 at 8.)

         Whether the Subject Tire separated due to the wear and tear alleged by Defendants or due to a design defect alleged by Plaintiffs is a jury determination. “Before the manufacturer or seller may be relieved of liability for the product-caused injury, the defendant must show that any alteration to the product was substantial.” 63 Am. Jur. 2d Products Liability § 19. “Liability may . . . be imposed upon a manufacturer or seller notwithstanding subsequent alteration of the product . . . when the alteration could have been anticipated by the manufacturer or seller, or did not causally contribute to the damages or injuries complained of.” Fleming v. Borden, Inc., 316 S.C. 452, 458 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted). In Fleming, the parties agreed the product was altered after it left the manufacture's hands, but the Supreme Court reversed summary judgment for the manufacturer on this issue because “it was for the jury to decide whether [the alteration] . . . was a foreseeable alteration” and, “if the jury believed [the plaintiff's ] evidence, it could legitimately conclude [the alteration was] . . . not a substantial or material one, in as much as it was foreseeable.” Id. at 459.

         A review of the evidence shows that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Defendants point to evidence to be considered by a jury that is not dispositive of the issue. “The time, length, and severity of use of the product and the product's state of repair are all relevant, but not controlling factors in determining whether a defect in the product existed at the time the product left the manufacture's hands; such factors are for the consideration of the trier of fact . . .” 63 Am. Jur. 2d Products Liability § 18. The South Carolina Supreme Court held that when a product's alleged defect is one related to its age, the age may be “coincidental with its failure rather than the cause of it” and “the mere passage of time should not excuse” the manufacturer. Mickle v. Blackmon, 252 S.C. 202, 234-35 (1969) ...


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