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Conner v. Ford Motor Co.

July 6, 2009

PAM CONNER AND FRANK MUEGGE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FORD MOTOR CO. AND JOHNSON CONTROLS, INC., DEFENDANTS,
v.
TIMOTHY J. SWINDELL, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

Introduction

This cause is before the Court on the third party defendant Timothy J. Swindell's ("Swindell") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 117) and his accompanying Memorandum in Support (Doc. 118). Attached to the Motion for Summary Judgment are the following Exhibits: (1) Release of Claims and Indemnification Agreement ("the Conner Release"); (2) Release of Claims and Indemnification Agreement ("the Muegge Release"); (3) Affidavit of GEICO Claims Manager ("the Seavey Affidavit"); (4) Affidavit of Pamela S. Conner ("the Conner Affidavit"); and (5) an excerpt of the deposition of Timothy Swindell (Swindell Deposition").

The defendant/third party plaintiff, Ford Motor Company ("Ford") filed a Response opposing the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 129).Attachedto the Response is a single Exhibit which is another excerpt from the Swindell deposition. Swindell filed a Reply.(Doc. 130). The material issues are fully briefed and oral argument is not required.

Background

This case was removed to this Court pursuant to its diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 2). Plaintiffs allege in the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 40) that on or about August 15, 2006 in Panama City, FL, a vehicle struck the 2003 Ford Expedition in which they were restrained third row passengers. (Doc. 40, p. 1¶ 1, p. 5, ¶ 1). Plaintiffs further allege that defects in the Ford Expedition and/or its components made it unreasonably dangerous and caused them injury. (Doc. 40, pp. -2, p. 5-6). Ford denies liability for Plaintiffs' injuries in its Answer. (Doc. 43).

Ford's filed a Third Party Complaint (Doc. 16) denying all liability for Plaintiffs' injuries (Doc. 16, p. 2, ¶ 1-2) and further alleging that at the time of the accident at issue, Swindell was driving the vehicle that Plaintiffs allege struck the Ford Expedition at issue. (Doc. 16, p. 2, ¶ 3). Ford also alleges that Plaintiffs' injuries were proximately caused by Swindell's negligence (Doc. 16, p. 2, ¶ 3) and seeks contribution from Swindell in an amount commensurate with his relative liability if Ford is found liable. (Doc. 16, p. 3, ¶ 7).

Swindell now seeks summary judgment as to the Third Party Complaint by asserting he reached "good faith" settlements with the Plaintiffs prior to this suit being filed. Ford, on the other hand prays that the Summary Judgment is denied because it argues the settlements were not in "good faith."

Material Facts

Ford does not challenge the legal sufficiency of the settlements between Swindell and Plaintiffs reached prior to the instant lawsuit being filed. (Doc. 117, Conner and Muegge Releases). Those settlements are memorialized in writing, supported by consideration, and release Swindell (among others) from any and all further liability to Plaintiffs for injuries resulting from the occurrence at issue. (Doc. 117, Conner and Muegge Releases).

The parties agree that pursuant to those settlements, Swindell's insurer paid $2,857.15 to each Plaintiff. (Doc. 117, p. 3, ¶ 10; Doc. 129, p. 4). Ford cites the $2,857.15 paid each Plaintiff in support of its argument the settlements were not in good faith. It asserts that sum is so nominal compared to the potential judgment in this case and Swindell's alleged relative liability for the accident that it is in conflict with the goals of the Contribution Act to equitably apportion damages. (Doc. 129, pp. 4-5)

Swindell argues the settlements were in good faith and cites the following material facts, which Ford does not dispute, in support of that assertion: (1) Swindell was 18 years old at the time of the accident and is now 20 years old (Swindell Dep. p. 7: 12-14); (2) Swindell's highest level of education is high school (Swindell Dep. p. 12: 18-19); (3) at the time of his deposition, Swindell was employed as a bus boy at a TGI Fridays restaurant bussing tables and at the time of the accident was employed at a car wash (Swindell Dep. p. 13: 11-20; p. 96: 2-8); (4) at the time of the accident, Swindell had no applicable insurance coverage other than a policy through GEICO (Swindell Dep. p. 92: 13-25, p. 93:1-14; Seavey Affidavit p. 2 ¶ 7); (5) the GEICO insurance policy covering the accident at issue had policy limits of $20,000.00 (Seavey Affidavit, p. 2, ¶ 5-7); (6) the $20,000 limits of Swindell's insurance policy were exhausted by being equally divided among seven claimants, including Plaintiffs, as part of the settlement of their claims against Swindell stemming from the accident at issue (Seavey Affidavit, p. 2, ¶ 12; Conner Affidavit, p. 2, ¶ 5-6); (7) Plaintiffs conducted an investigation and failed to discover any significant assets or alternative sources of income belonging to Swindell (Conner Affidavit ¶ 9); (8) Swindell did not own a home at the time of the accident and does not now own a home (Swindell Dep., p. 92: 22-25, p. 93:1-5). In short, Swindell argues and Ford does not dispute that he is of limited economic means, has no significant assets, and that his insurance resources are exhausted settling the claims stemming from the accident at issue.

Legal Standards

A. Standard of ...


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