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BARRON v. FORD MOTOR CO. OF CANADA

August 26, 1988

TINA BARRON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY OF CANADA, LTD. AND FORD MOTOR COMPANY, USA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mihm, District Judge.

ORDER

Presently before the Court is the Defendants' "Motion for Ruling that the Law of the State of North Carolina is the Applicable Law in this Case." The automobile accident which gave rise to this case occurred in North Carolina. The Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida from which it was removed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Pursuant to a Motion for Transfer on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens, the Florida District Court transferred this case to the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. The question now before this Court is what state law applies in this diversity action. The Court finds, for the reasons stated below, that the law of North Carolina applies.

FACTS

In August of 1984, the Plaintiff was involved in a single vehicle automobile accident which occurred in the State of North Carolina, on North Carolina State Route 172 (Complaint ¶ 7). The automobile, a 1983 Ford Escort with a sun roof, had been purchased in January of 1984 from the Federal Credit Union at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina (Complaint ¶ 6). The automobile was purchased and owned by the Plaintiff's sister and brother-in-law, Patricia and Samuel Bass, who were both stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina at the time of the purchase and at the time of the accident. (Complaint ¶ 7).

The Plaintiff, Juanita (Tina) Barron, was a citizen of Illinois prior to her move to North Carolina, where she lived with her sister. She babysat with their infant daughter, Lindsey, so that the couple could readily fulfill their military duties at Camp LeJeune. (Plaintiff's Dep. p. 8).

In the afternoon of August 10, 1984, Patricia Bass and the Plaintiff were enroute to Camp LeJeune to pick up Samuel Bass. (Patricia Bass Dep. p. 10). Patricia Bass was driving the 1983 Ford Escort and Tina Barron was seated in the right front passenger seat. (Id. at 18). Lindsey Bass was in a car seat directly behind the driver's seat. (Id.)

The highway was wet from heavy rain earlier in the day, and it was drizzling at the time of the accident. (Id. at 11). While traveling 50 to 55 miles per hour (Id. at 13), Patricia Bass hit a puddle in the road and lost control of the automobile. The car ultimately ran off the road and overturned. (Id. pp. 16-19).

Neither Patricia Bass nor Lindsey Bass were thrown from the car or suffered injuries of any severity. (Id. at 20-21). The Plaintiff woke up lying on her back in a ditch. (Plaintiff's Dep. at 18). She suffered spinal injuries and as a result is now a paraplegic. (Id. at 31). Since the time of the accident, the Plaintiff has returned to live with her parents in Sheffield, Illinois, about 50 miles from Peoria. (Id. at 32).

DISCUSSION

The question of applicable law is of particular concern in the instant case in light of the stark contrast between Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina substantive tort law. In the instant case, the Plaintiff relies upon the Crashworthiness Doctrine, which holds a manufacturer liable for additional injuries resulting from the negligent design of a product, even if the defect that caused the injuries to be enhanced is not the initial cause of the accident. Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir. 1968).

In the Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges no defect that caused the accident itself, but seeks to recover from the Defendants on a theory that the allegedly defective design of the sun roof caused the Plaintiff to be ejected from the automobile, thus aggravating her injuries. Plaintiff alleges that the negligent design of the retention system of the Ford Escort caused her to be injured more seriously than she would have been if the sun roof were properly designed.

Illinois and Florida strict liability law both recognize the Crashworthiness Doctrine. However, North Carolina law does not. Wilson v. Ford Motor Corp., 656 F.2d 960 (4th Cir. 1981).

The jurisdiction of this Court is based upon diversity of citizenship, and therefore, the Erie Doctrine applies. The Erie Doctrine requires that conflict of law questions be resolved by applying the choice of law rules of the forum state. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co., 313 U.S. 487, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941).

Although both parties spend time discussing the conflict of laws test applied by Illinois and North Carolina, the law is very well established that in a transfer case the applicable choice of law standard is that of the transferor state. The Supreme Court resolved this issue in the case of VanDusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 84 S.Ct. 805, 11 L.Ed.2d 945 (1964). In its decision, the Supreme Court recognized an exception to the Erie and Klaxon Doctrines in the cases ...


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