Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

CONTINI v. HYUNDAI MOTOR CO.

February 16, 1995

THOMAS A. CONTINI, an infant by his parents and natural guardians, ALEXANDER F. CONTINI and DEBORAH M. CONTINI, and ALEXANDER F. CONTINI and DEBORAH M. CONTINI, Individually, Plaintiffs, against HYUNDAI MOTOR COMPANY, PICKLE KING, INC. AND ANTONIOS KAPPOS, Defendants.

JOHN G. KOELTL, United States District Judge


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN G. KOELTL

JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge:

 This case arose out of a two-vehicle accident that occurred on December 4, 1987 at approximately 1:25 p.m. on Route 17K in Newburgh, New York. Deborah Contini was driving her 1987 Hyundai Excel. Her infant son, Thomas, was seated behind her in the back seat in a Fisher Price child restraint seat. The Continis' Hyundai was struck from the rear by a Mercedes truck, owned by defendant Pickle King and driven by defendant Antonios Kappos. The force of the collision caused the driver's seat to yield towards the back of the vehicle. Thomas Contini's head struck a surface within the vehicle, resulting in severe injuries, including brain damage.

 The plaintiffs allege that defendants Pickle King and Kappos are liable for negligence and that defendant Hyundai Motor Company ("Hyundai") is liable for defective manufacture, defective design (including defective design of the seat belt/seat system), failure to warn, negligent design and manufacture and breach of implied warranties. They contend that the design of the seat belt in the Continis' Hyundai was defective because, during the collision, it permitted Deborah Contini to move along the seat back towards the rear of the car, causing her head to strike her infant son's head. (This movement is called "ramping" by the plaintiffs.) In support of this claim, the plaintiffs allege that the seat belt violated Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard ("FMVSS") 209 S4.1(b).

 Hyundai has made a motion in limine to preclude the plaintiffs from offering testimony to the jury regarding the meaning of FMVSS 209 S4.1(b). FMVSS 209 regulates seat belts; the relevant portion provides:

 
Pelvic Restraint. A seat belt assembly shall provide pelvic restraint whether or not upper torso restraint is provided, and the pelvic restraint shall be designed to remain on the pelvis under all conditions, including collision or roll-over of the motor vehicle.

 FMVSS 209 S4.1(b) (emphasis added). Specifically, Hyundai has sought to preclude testimony of the plaintiffs' expert, Alan Cantor, interpreting the statute for the jury. Hyundai also has asked the Court to rule, as a matter of law, that under the proper interpretation of FMVSS 209 S4.1(b), the subject Hyundai did not violate FMVSS 209 S4.1(b). Hyundai argues that FMVSS 209 S4.1(b) is a "design standard" and not a "performance standard" and that performance of a seat belt during an accident is irrelevant to the issue of whether the seat belt complied with the standard. It argues further that because FMVSS 209 S4.1(b) is a design standard, the plaintiffs cannot prove that the seat belt in the Continis' Hyundai Excel violated the standard. Finally, it argues that FMVSS 209 S4.1(b) is a nullity because it is not an objective standard.

 I.

 The parties agree that the meaning of FMVSS 209 S4.1(b) -- a matter of statutory construction -- is an issue for the Court and that, therefore, it should not be a subject for expert testimony before the jury. See Bammerlin v. Navistar Int'l Transp. Corp., 30 F.3d 898, 900-01 (7th Cir. 1994) (allowing the jury to resolve the experts' conflicting testimony about the meaning of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards was "a serious mistake" -- the district court should have resolved the questions with respect to the meanings of the standards "and provided the jury with the proper answer, so that experts for each side could address their testimony to the governing standards[]"); Stissi v. Interstate & Ocean Transp. Co., 765 F.2d 370, 374 (2d Cir. 1985) ("When a decision turns on the meaning of words in a statute or regulation, the decision is one of law which must be made by the court."); Payne v. A.O. Smith Corp., 627 F. Supp. 226, 228 (S.D. Ohio 1985) (expert could not define and interpret Consumer Product Safety Commission rules because such testimony would constitute a legal opinion as to the meaning of the rules and the defendants' alleged violation of the rules).

 Similarly, the parties agree that their experts should not testify as to whether the subject Hyundai violated or complied with the standard. See United States v. Bilzerian, 926 F.2d 1285, 1294-95 (2d Cir.) (experts should not testify to legal conclusions but it was not error for an expert to testify to the background of securities regulation, filing requirements and hypotheticals without testifying that the defendant's behavior violated the securities law), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 813, 116 L. Ed. 2d 39, 112 S. Ct. 63 (1991). The plaintiffs indicate that they do not intend to have Mr. Cantor testify as to whether the subject Hyundai violated the safety standard. They argue, appropriately, that their expert should be allowed to "testify as to what occurred in this accident and what the deficiencies in the design and performance of the Hyundai seat belt system and seating system were in the Hyundai Excel." (Jenkins Aff. in Opp'n at 2.) *fn1"

 Following the clear holdings of Bammerlin and Bilzerian, the Court will instruct the jury on the existence and the meaning of FMVSS 209 S4.1(b).

 II.

 In instructing the jury on the meaning of FMVSS 209 S4.1(b), the Court will rely on the plain language of the standard, along with the interpretations given to the standard by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA"), by Judge Broderick in his opinion denying summary judgment in this case and by other courts that have dealt with the standard.

 The statutory framework for safety standards is set forth in the National Traffic and Vehicle Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1431 (1982). *fn2" 15 U.S.C. § 1392 provides, in relevant part: "The Secretary shall establish by order appropriate Federal motor vehicle safety standards. Each such Federal motor vehicle safety standard shall be practicable, shall meet the need for motor vehicle safety, and shall be ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.