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Piltch v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 28, 2014

FORD MOTOR COMPANY, et al., Defendants

Page 885

For Howard Piltch, Barbara Nelson-Piltch, Plaintiffs: Donald E Wertheimer South Bend, IN.

For Ford Motor Company, Defendant: Kevin C Schiferl, Frost Brown Todd LLC - Ind/IN, Indianapolis, IN; Vanessa A Davis, Frost Brown Todd LLC - Ind/IN, Indianapolis, IN.

For For Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company, Defendant: Vanessa A Davis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Frost Brown Todd LLC - Ind/IN, Indianapolis, IN.

Page 886



This matter is before the court on defendant Ford Motor Company's (" Ford" )[1] motion for summary judgment or alternatively for sanctions. (DE # 20.) Plaintiffs Howard Piltch and Barbara Nelson-Piltch, husband and wife (for convenience, " the Piltches" ) brought this action after they were injured when their Mercury Mountaineer, manufactured by Ford, skidded on ice and collided with a wall and then trees. The Piltches claim that their injuries were more severe than they would have otherwise been had the air bags in the vehicle not failed to deploy. The basis for Ford's motion for summary judgment, in a nutshell, is that the Piltches cannot prove their claim without expert testimony to

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establish causation by a product defect, and they have none.

Legal Standard

Summary judgment must be granted when " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists when " the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Not every dispute between the parties makes summary judgment inappropriate; " [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id.

To determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Ogden v. Atterholt, 606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010). A party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion may not rely merely on allegations or denials in his or her own pleading, but rather must " marshal and present the court with the evidence she contends will prove her case." Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which he or she bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Massey v. Johnson, 457 F.3d 711, 716 (7th Cir. 2006).


For the purposes of the analysis pertinent to Ford's motion, there are no facts in dispute in this case, either because they are truly undisputed, or because, for the purposes of its motion, Ford accepts the version of a fact as alleged by the Piltches and most favorable to them. In turn, the Piltches concede certain facts or issues for the purpose of Ford's motion.[2] The only dispute is whether the facts, taken in this posture, are enough to present an issue of fact to the jury as to whether Ford has any liability for the Piltches' injuries. The court briefly summaries the underlying facts which the parties accept as undisputed for the purposes of Ford's motion. Additional facts, including procedural facts germane to Ford's motion, will be included later in the analysis of Ford's motion.

The single-vehicle accident at issue in this case occurred in Andover, Massachusetts, on February 4, 2007. (DE #1 at 2.) The road conditions were icy and treacherous. ( Id.) The Piltches were in their 2003 Mercury Mountaineer, with Barbara driving and Howard riding in the front passenger seat. ( Id.) Because of the icy road conditions, Barbara lost control of the vehicle and it collided with a tree. ( Id.) The air bags did not deploy, causing more serious injuries to the Piltches than would have occurred had they deployed. ( Id.) The Piltches sold the car to a James O'Boyle in 2009. (DE #35 at ¶ 3.) At that time, any damages fro the accident had already been repaired. (Id.) Neither party has designated any evidence showing the condition of the vehicle after the accident, such as photographs or reports showing the extent of its damages and necessary

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repairs. After purchasing the vehicle, O'Boyle, a mechanic, reprogrammed the vehicle's " black box" computer module which would have degraded any diagnostic information concerning the accident; besides that, O'Boyle's opinion is that the module would have ben replaced ...

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