United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
wrongful death and products liability case comes before the
court on Plaintiff Willie Earl Bonds's “Motion for
Summary Judgment on Defendants' Affirmative Defenses of
Contributory Negligence and Assumption of the Risk.”
Culver, the backseat passenger of a 1997 Hyundai Accent, was
partially ejected from the vehicle when his door opened
during a collision. Mr. Culver suffered catastrophic injuries
from the wreck and died nearly a year later.
Bonds, the administrator of Mr. Culver's estate, brings
wrongful death and products liability claims for Mr.
Culver's death against Defendants Hyundai Motor Company
and Hyundai Motor America under the Alabama Extended
Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine, Ala. Code §
6-5-500, et seq. Mr. Bonds alleges that the
Accent's door opened during the collision because of a
defective door locking and latching system.
raises the affirmative defenses of contributory negligence
and assumption of the risk based on Mr. Culver's failure
to wear a seatbelt and failure to exercise reasonable care in
handling the door locking and latching system.
Bonds moved for summary judgment on Hyundai's affirmative
defenses, which the court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN
PART. Because front seat passengers are not
contributorily negligent for not wearing a seatbelt by
statute, Hyundai cannot rely on Mr. Culver's failure to
wear a seatbelt as evidence of contributory negligence even
though he was a back seat passenger. But because
evidence exists of the visibly damaged condition of Mr.
Culver's door handle and the latch system, a jury must
decide whether Mr. Culver assumed the risk of being ejected
from the car by not wearing his seatbelt and whether he was
contributorily negligent or assumed the risk of his door
opening in a collision by not locking his door.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court can resolve a defendant's affirmative defenses on
summary judgment only when the plaintiff establishes
two essential elements: (1) no genuine disputes of material
fact exist; and (2) the plaintiff is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law as to the affirmative defense.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (finding that
the Rule 56 standard applies to motions for summary judgment
on any dispositive issue for which the nonmoving party will
bear the burden of proof at trial).
the first element of the moving party's summary judgment
burden, “‘[g]enuine disputes [of material fact]
are those in which the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the
non-movant.'” Evans v. Books-A-Million,
762 F.3d 1288, 1294 (11th Cir. 2014) (emphasis added)
(quoting Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93
F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996)). A court will consider an
issue of fact “material” if “it is a legal
element of the claim under the applicable substantive law
which might affect the outcome of the case.” Allen
v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997)
(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986)). And a court will consider an issue of fact
“genuine” if “the record taken as a whole
could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving
court must view the record evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party and draw reasonable
inferences in favor of the non-moving party. White v.
Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191
(11th Cir. 2015). And reasonable inferences drawn from record
evidence can defeat a motion for summary judgment because
“‘the drawing of legitimate inferences from the
facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.'”
Carlson v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 787 F.3d
1313, 1318 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Allen, 121 F.3d
18, 2011, Dareyan Byrd, the driver of the Hyundai Accent, and
Casey Cauley, the front passenger, offered Mr. Culver a ride.
Mr. Culver opened the rear driver's side door of the
Accent, sat in the backseat behind the driver's seat, and
closed the door.
to Mr. Byrd and Ms. Cauley, Mr. Culver completely shut his
door, no lights or sounds from the Accent indicated that he
did not, and Mr. Culver did not mention that he had any
trouble with the door. (Doc. 91-1 at 21; Doc. 91-2 at 8).
But, according to Mr. Byrd, the interior handle on the rear
driver's side door was broken and hung loosely from its
position on the door. (Doc. 91-1 at 10, 13- 14, 16, 36, 54,
56). The broken handle exposed a metal rod inside the door
that a person would have to pull to open the door from the
inside. (Id. at 12-13, 15-16, 36).
after they drove away, the Accent collided with a United
States Postal truck. Mr. Culver was not wearing his seatbelt
at the time of the collision. Mr. Culver's door opened
during the collision, he was partially ejected from the car,
and his head struck the ground. He suffered severe injuries
from the accident that rendered him quadriplegic. ...