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SHANK v. AMC

November 10, 1983

EARL L. SHANK and PATRICIA ANN SHANK, Individually, and PATRICIA ANN SHANK, as Administratrix of the Estate of SHERRY LEE SHANK, Deceased
v.
AMERICAN MOTORS CORPORATION, and JEEP CORPORATION and DONALD PUSEY; ROBERT TIMOTHY BENNER v. JEEP CORPORATION and AMERICAN MOTORS CORPORATION



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III

 I. Introduction

 On June 17, 1980, Sherry Lee Shank died as a result of injuries sustained while a passenger in a 1978 Jeep CJ Renegade which rolled over in a single vehicle accident. On November 14, 1981, Robert Timothy Benner was rendered a paraplegic as a result of injuries sustained while a passenger in a 1975 Jeep CJ-5 which rolled over in a single vehicle accident. Plaintiffs in both the Shank and Benner cases thereafter instituted products liability actions against defendants American Motors Corporation and Jeep Corporation, alleging that the injuries were caused by the defective design, manufacture, and assembly of the subject jeeps. On June 7, 1983, defendants requested that I recuse myself on the ground that I am personally biased against car manufacturers, a class in which defendants are members. Defendants further allege that this bias was extrajudicially acquired. Defendants point to the following colloquy, which took place at a discovery conference in the Shank case on April 15, 1983, as providing a basis for their motion:

 
THE COURT: Very well. This is a suit to recover damages for alleged defects in a motor vehicle called a "Jeep" manufactured and sold by American Motors Company as I understand it.
 
In previous conferences I have encountered unwillingness to answer, evasiveness, chicanery, intentional misunderstanding of the questions that were asked and refusal to answer based on an alleged misunderstanding or non-knowledge of a question.
 
It also becomes increasingly obvious to me that the defendant is attempting to hide information, conceal information, and evade answering interrogatories.
 
Therefore, I am ordering that all interrogatories that have been asked be answered insofar as they relate to the defect contained in the Complaint and not beyond the defect complained of in the Complaint.
 
Mr. Pinto has told me that this will put the American Motors Company out of business. Aside from the fact that I just simply don't believe that whatsoever, that's too bad. If it puts them out of business, maybe they deserve to be put out of business.
 
Is there anything else you want me to add to what I said before?
 
(pause)
 
MR. PINTO: Well, you might want to add your previous comments that "Automobile manufacturers are amongst the most devious groups of defendants that you have ever seen."
 
THE COURT: I certainly adopt that.
 
"Automobile manufacturers are among the most devious groups of defendants that I have ever seen in 21 years on the Bench."
 
Also, I might add that in the case of at least one automobile manufacturer, it's the only case I can remember in which I entered a Default Judgment for evasiveness and failure to answer interrogatory ...

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