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KLOOTWYK v. DAIMLER CHRYSLER CORPORATION

May 2, 2003

LORRAINE KLOOTWYK, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF HAROLD KLOOTWTK, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAIMLER CHRYSLER CORPORATION, ET AL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David H. Coar, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Lorraine Klootwyk ("Plaintiff' or "Klootwyk"), filed a two-count diversity action under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180/1, against DaimlerChrysler Corporation and DaimlerChrysler Motors Corporation (collectively "DaimlerChrysler" or "Defendants"). Count I is a strict products liability claim and Count II is a negligence claim. In both counts, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants defectively designed the driver-side air bag system in its 1998 Dodge Ram 2500 van, which caused Plaintiff's husband to suffer fatal injuries upon collision. Before this Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, this Court GRANTS defendants' motion for summary judgment.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper "if 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Peerman v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 35 F.3d 284, 286 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). A genuine issue of material fact exists for trial when, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn from it in a light most favorable to the non-movant, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Whetstine v. Gates Rubber Co., 895 F.2d 388, 392 (7th Cir. 1990).

The movant bears the initial burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material facts exists for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the movant meets this burden, the nonmovant must set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Rule 56(e); Whetstine, 895 F.2d at 392 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). The non-movant "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading," but instead, must produce "proper documentary evidence to support his contentions." Whetstine, 895 F.2d at 392 (citing Howland v. Kilguist, 833 F.2d 639, 642 (7th Cir. 1987)). Summary judgment should be granted if the non-movant has "failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish the existence of an essential element of its case on which it bears the burden of proof' at trial. Peerman, 35 F.3d at 287 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322).

II. Background

The following facts are taken from Defendants' Statement of Uncontested Material Facts.*fn1 At all relevant times, Klootwyk has been a resident of Illinois. Defendants are Delaware corporations with their principal places of business in Michigan.

Mr. Klootwyk, the decedent, had a history of severe arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. On June 1, 1998, Mr. Klootwyk was driving his 1998 Dodge Ram 2500 van westbound on Wellington Street in Chicago, Illinois. The Dodge Ram van was equipped with a driver restraint system which included a driver-side air bag system. The driver-side air bag is designed to deploy in moderate to severe frontal collisions. At the intersection of Wellington and Lakewood, Mr. Klootwyk came to a complete stop at a stop sign. At or near the stop sign, Mr. Klootwyk suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Moments later, the van slowly proceeded through the intersection and veered off to the right, traveling off of the street and over the curb across three properties. The van finally came to a rest when it collided with a house at 1310 Wellington Street. The driver-side air bag in the vehicle did not deploy in the collision as the speed and impact of the accident was below the deployment threshold. Witnesses at the scene, who observed the van during the accident and later approached it, noted that Mr. Klootwyk was blue in color, immobile, and unresponsive. The injuries that Mr. Klootwyk reportedly sustained from the accident (injuries to his neck), were not, in all medical probability, fatal injuries.

On May 1, 2001, Plaintiff, individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Harold Klootwyk, deceased, filed her products liability complaint against Defendants in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Complaint consists of two counts, both of which allege that the driver-side air bag system was defective in that it failed to deploy during the collision, causing her husband fatal injuries. On August 8, 2001, the case was removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441 as complete diversity of citizenship between the parties exists and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

In accordance with this Court's Scheduling Order, the parties were instructed to disclose expert testimony, pursuant to Rule 26(a)(2), on or before September 12, 2002. Defendants complied with the order, disclosing written reports of several expert witnesses who opined that the driver-side air bag properly did not deploy in the crash and that it was of a reasonable, safe and effective design. They also proffered expert testimony that Mr. Klootwyk suffered a sudden cardiac arrest at or near the stop sign at the intersection of Wellington and Lakewood and that the injuries that Mr. Klootwyk sustained due to the accident were not, in all medical probability, fatal injuries. Plaintiff failed to present any expert testimony.

III. Discussion

A ruling on a motion for summary judgment necessarily implicates the substantive law that would govern the case at the trial on the merits. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. As a federal court sitting in diversity jurisdiction, this Court applies the substantive law of the state in which it sits, which is Illinois. Land v. Yamaha Motor Corp., 272 F.3d 514, 516 (7th Cir. 2001). Therefore, Illinois negligence and strict products liability law applies to this case. This Court addresses each Count of the Complaint in turn.

A. Count I — Strict Liability

The doctrine of strict products liability as set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 402A (1965) has been adopted in Illinois. Coney v. J.L.G. Industries, Inc., 97 Ill. 2d 104, 110, 454 N.E.2d 197, 200 (1983) (citing Suvada v. White Motor Co., 32 Ill.2d 612, 210 N.E.2d 182 (1965)). Therefore, under Illinois law, a claim for strict products liability requires proof that: 1) the injury or damages resulted from a condition of the product manufactured by the defendant; 2) the condition was an unreasonably dangerous one; and 3) the condition existed at the time the product left the manufacturer's control. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402(A). Generally, plaintiffs favor strict products liability because it does not require proof of fault. Todd v. Societe Bic S.A., 21 F.3d 1402, 1405 (7th Cir. 1993). However, while a plaintiff need not prove the manufacturer's fault in order to prevail on this theory, "strict products liability is not absolute liability." Korando v. Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co, 159 Ill.2d 335, 343, 637 N.E.2d 1020, 1024 (1994). All three elements of a strict products liability claim can be established by either direct or circumstantial evidence. Sorce v. Naperville Jeep Eagle Inc., 309 Ill. App.3d 313, 327, 722 N.E.2d 227, 237 (1999). When circumstantial evidence is used, "it should, at a minimum, include ...


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