The opinion of the court was delivered by: DuBOIS, District Judge.
AND NOW, to wit, this 28th day of August, 2000, upon
consideration of the Joint Motion of Defendants Suzuki Motor
Corporation and American Suzuki Motor Corporation for Summary
Judgment (Doc. 40, filed Aug. 27, 1999), Plaintiff's Opposition
to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 41, filed Sept.
21, 1999), Defendants' Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition to
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 43, filed Oct. 7,
1999), and related submissions; IT IS ORDERED that the Joint
Motion of Defendants Suzuki Motor Corporation and American Suzuki
Motor Corporation for Summary Judgment is DENIED.
This case arises out of an automobile accident which occurred
in the early morning hours of March 10, 1996 at the intersection
of 7th and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At that
time plaintiff, Thomas J. Bowersfield, Jr. and two companions
were traveling west on Spruce Street in a 1992 Suzuki Samurai
(the "Samurai"). Another vehicle, traveling north on 7th Street,
collided with the Samurai and sped away.
Christian French, who owned the Samurai and is a third-party
defendant in this action, was driving the Samurai. Brian Farnham
was seated in the right front bucket seat of the vehicle. Neither
French nor Farnham was wearing a seat belt. Plaintiff was riding
unrestrained on the uncarpeted floor in the cargo area at the
rear of the Samurai.
The point of impact on the Samurai was the left rear quarter
panel. As a result of the impact, the Samurai careened out of
control, first spinning counterclockwise and striking a traffic
signal pole and then spinning clockwise, striking another pole
before coming to rest facing in a northeasterly direction on
Plaintiff was ejected from the vehicle as a result of the
collision. He sustained severe permanent injuries, including
brain injury, facial fractures, blindness to the right eye and
The Samurai was designed and manufactured by defendant Suzuki
Motor Corporation ("SMC"), a Japanese auto manufacturer; in the
United States it was distributed by defendant American Suzuki
Motor Corporation ("ASMC"), a California corporation. Since its
introduction in 1985 and through 1991, the Samurai was designed,
manufactured and distributed in the United States primarily as a
four passenger "car." Four seats, with lap belts for the rear
occupants, were provided with the vehicle as standard equipment.
For a number of years beginning in 1985 defendant SMC's
advertisements regularly depicted people riding in the rear
compartment, behind the driver and the front passengers. No
evidence was presented as to the duration of this advertising
By 1992 defendant SMC faced constraints in the number of cars
that it could import to the U.S. by virtue of an import quota
mandated under the Japanese Voluntary Export Restraint; there was
no such restriction with respect to trucks. Also, new federal
regulations were passed in 1992 requiring lap and shoulder belt
restraints in the rear passenger compartment of all sport/utility
vehicles ("SUVs") sold in the U.S. See 49 C.F.R. § 571.208
In response to these pressures, defendant SMC redesigned the
Samurai for the U.S. market, converting it from a permanent
four-seater into a vehicle with the option of being configured as
a four-seater, or a two-seater with a rear cargo area. The
redesigned Samurai was sold with mounting holes in the rear cargo
area so that consumer's who wanted four-seats could purchase a
parts kit separately and have the rear seats installed.
When configured as a two-seater with a rear cargo area, the
redesigned Samurai resembled a small pick-up truck. Unlike a
pick-up truck, however, the Samurai did not have a physical
barrier to separate the front seats from the rear cargo area.
Defendants never marketed the Samurai as a pick-up truck.
Beginning with the 1992 model year, defendant SMC added a
warning label in the rear cargo area of the Samurai. The warning
was located on the left rear wheel well, approximately 1-1/4
inches above the cargo bed, and was approximately 2.4 x 2.8
inches in size. It read as follows:
This vehicle is designed to carry a maximum of two
persons (The driver and one front seat passenger)
— Do not ride as a passenger in the rear of this
vehicle or you could suffer severe injury or death in
the event of an accident, abrupt maneuver, etc.
— Do not modify this vehicle to accommodate
On the morning of March 9, 1996, plaintiff had been a licensed
driver for seven years. He testified that he was in the habit of
buckling his seat belt for general safety when riding in motor
vehicles and he admitted noticing that the rear cargo area lacked
rear seats and contained no passenger restraint system.
Nevertheless, plaintiff voluntarily chose to ride in the rear
cargo area of the Samurai.
Plaintiff testified that he did not specifically recall whether
or not he had seen the Samurai's warning label. However, he also
stated that if he had noticed such a warning, or if there had
been a physical divider between the front seats and the rear
cargo area, he would have "made other plans — decided not to sit
there and made other plans, taken another vehicle."
Plaintiff originally filed this action in state court. On
February 27, 1998 defendants SMC and ASMC removed to this Court,
based on diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332 (West
2000). On June 8, 1998 Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (Doc.
13), and on July 1, 1998 he filed a Second Amended Complaint (the
"Second Amended Complaint") (Doc. 15). The Second Amended
Complaint contains two counts. In Count One plaintiff asserts a
claim in strict product liability under Restatement (Second) of
Torts: § 402A (1965)*fn1. In Count Two plaintiff asserts a claim
of breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular
On July 15, 1998 Christian French was joined as a third party
defendant in this action by defendant ASMC (Doc. 19). On that
date defendants SMC and ASMC filed separate answers to
plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint with affirmative defenses;
defendant SMC's answer included a cross-claim against Christian
French (Docs. 17 and 18).
Plaintiff moved to dismiss defendant SMC's third party
complaint on July 31, 1998 (Doc. 21). On December 28, 1998,
following oral argument, that motion was granted with respect to
defendants' claims that Christian French was solely liable to
plaintiff, and defendants' claims for indemnification and
equitable subrogation, but was denied in all other respects (Doc.
33). By stipulation between plaintiff and defendants SMC and
ASMC, Count Two of the Second Amended Complaint for breach of
implied warranty was dismissed with prejudice on July 22, 1998
"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 a judgment as a matter of law[,]"
summary judgment shall be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548,
91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence must
be considered in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
See Adickes v. S.H. Kress and Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159, 90 S.Ct.
1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). However, the party opposing summary
judgment "must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct.
1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Therefore, "[i]f the evidence
[offered by the nonmoving party] is merely colorable or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106
S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). On the other hand, if
reasonable minds can differ as to the import of the evidence
presented that speaks to an issue of material fact, summary
judgment should not be granted.
IV. PENNSYLVANIA STRICT PRODUCT LIABILITY LAW
This is a strict product liability case arising out of an
automobile accident occurring in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania ...