Plaintiffs commenced this personal injury action seeking
monetary damages for injuries sustained by Mark Walters in a
single motor vehicle accident. Plaintiffs contend defendant is
liable for those injuries based upon a manufacturing defect in
the air bag safety restraint system installed in the vehicle.
The defect was the failure of the air bag to deploy in a "near
frontal" crash, causing Mr. Walters to sustain serious head
injuries. Presently before the court is defendant's motion for
summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion
will be granted.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) provides that summary judgment may be
granted if, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving
party, "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories
and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Summary
judgment may be granted against a party who
fails to adduce facts sufficient to establish the existence of
any element essential to that party's claim, and upon which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying
evidence which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. When the movant does not bear the burden of proof
on the claim, the movant's initial burden may be met by
demonstrating the lack of record evidence to support the
opponent's claim. National State Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank,
979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992). Once that burden has been
met, the non-moving party must set forth "specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial," or the factual
record will be taken as presented by the moving party and
judgment will be entered as a matter of law. Matsushita
Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a), (e)) (emphasis in Matsushita). An issue is genuine only
if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
In meeting its burden of proof, the "opponent must do more
than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538
(1986). The non-moving party "must present affirmative evidence
in order to defeat a properly supported motion" and cannot
"simply reassert factually unsupported allegations." Williams
v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989).
Nor can the opponent "merely rely upon conclusory allegations in
[its] pleadings or in memoranda and briefs." Harter v. GAF
Corp., 967 F.2d 846: (3d Cir. 1992). Likewise, mere conjecture
or speculation by the party resisting summary judgment will not
provide a basis upon which to deny the motion. Robertson v.
Allied Signal, Inc., 914 F.2d 360, 382-83 n. 12 (3d Cir. 1990).
If the non-moving party's evidence merely is colorable or lacks
sufficient probative force summary judgment must be granted.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505; see also Big
Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America, 974 F.2d 1358, 1362
(3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912, 113 S.Ct. 1262,
122 L.Ed.2d 659 (1993) (although court is not permitted to weigh
facts or competing inferences, it is no longer required to "turn
a blind eye" to the weight of the evidence).
Plaintiffs contend that a strict product liability claim may
be maintained on the ground that a supplemental inflatable
restraint system (i.e., a driver's side air bag) failed to
deploy in a 1996 Chevrolet Blazer when Mark Walters lost control
of it and crashed into a hillside on May 17, 1998. The Blazer
was manufactured by defendant and purchased by Louann Walters as
new from a Youngstown, Ohio, dealership. The vehicle was
equipped with a driver's side air bag and the owner's manual
provided the following pertinent description of the manner in
which it was intended to operate:
The air bag is designed to inflate in moderate to
severe frontal or near-frontal crashes. The air bag
will inflate only if the impact speed is above the
system's designed "threshold level." If your vehicle
goes straight into a wall that does not move or
deform, the threshold level is about 14 to 18 mph
(23-29 km/h). The threshold level can vary, however,
with specific vehicle design, so that it can be
somewhat above or below this range. If your vehicle
strikes something that will move or deform, such as a
parked car, the threshold level will be higher. The
air bag is not designed to
inflate in rollovers, side impacts or rear impacts,
because inflation would not be helpful to the
Exhibit C to Plaintiffs' Response to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Document No. 17). The owner's manual further
explained inflation of the air bag would restrain the driver
from striking the steering wheel by distributing the driver's
forward momentum more gradually. It then noted in contrast: "But
air bags would not help you in many types of collisions,
including rollovers, rear impacts and side impacts, primarily
because an occupant's motion is not toward the air bag." Id.
It also indicated the Blazer was equipped with a diagnostic
module designed to record information about the air bag system,
including information about the readiness of the system, when
the sensors are activated and the driver's safety belt usage at