United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
INCARNACION L. SPEAKS, Plaintiff,
MAZDA MOTOR CORPORATION, and MAZDA MOTOR OF AMERICA, INC., d/b/a MAZDA NORTH AMERICA OPERATIONS, Defendants.
W. Molloy, District Judge.
motions are pending in this matter: (1) Plaintiff Incamacion
Speaks' ("Speaks") renewed motions in limine,
(Doc. 232); (2) Defendant Mazda Motor Corporation and its
related entities' ("Mazda") second motion for
summary judgment, (Doc. 235); (3) Mazda's motion to
exclude the testimony of Stephen R. Syson, (Doc. 240); and
(4) Mazda's motion in limine regarding evidence of a
seatbelt warning, (Doc. 242). They are addressed in turn.
Speaks' Renewed Motions in Limine (Doc. 232)
renews two motions in limine that were raised prior to the
4. 1Mazda should be precluded fi-om introducing any evidence,
testimony, argument or improper reference that any damages to
[Speaks] resulted fi'om and were caused by [Speaks']
acts, fault, conduct and negligence.
7. Mazda should be precluded from introducing any evidence,
testimony, argument or improper reference that had [Speaks]
worn her shoulder belt properly and been properly positioned
at the time of the crash she would have received minor
injuries in the crash.
(Doc. 232 at 2; see Doc. 113.) Motion No. 4 is
granted and Motion No. 7 is granted in part and modified as
to the first trial. Judge Christensen denied Speaks'
motions, holding that "Mazda is entitled to assert a
causation defense based on under-the-shoulder belt routing to
the extent that [Speaks'] design defect claim is based on
the defective 'fit' of the seatbelt even when
properly worn." (Doc. 126 at 2-3.)
argues that those denials cannot stand in light of the Ninth
Circuit memorandum disposition in this case. See Speaks
v. Mazda Motor Corp., 701 Fed.Appx. 663 (9th Cir. July
26, 2017). Mazda, on the other hand, insists that it has the
right to introduce the facts of the crash to show causation.
(Doc. 248 at 2.) The Ninth Circuit held that the district
court erred by allowing Mazda to introduce considerable
evidence of Speaks' misuse but failing to instruct that
jury that reasonable misuse is not a defense and not allowing
Speaks to present foreseeability-related evidence.
Speaks, 701 Fed.Appx. at 665-66. But, the Circuit
clarified: "because Mazda was entitled to introduce
evidence to try to defeat the causation element of
Speaks' case, we do not hold that the district court
improperly admitted Mazda's misuse evidence."
Id. at 665 n.l.
can argue that the "fit" of the seatbelt was
defective when worn over the shoulder. Accordingly, Mazda, as
recognized by Speaks, can argue that the shoulder belt was
routed under Speaks' arm during the accident to undercut
the causation part of this "fit" argument.
(See Doc. 252 at 5; Doc. 125 at 23.) But, Speaks can
also argue that if the seatbelt was routed under the arm,
because that misuse was foreseeable, (see Doc. 125
at 21-22), Mazda had a duty to design out or guard against
defects related to such use. Lutz v. Nat'l Crane
Corp., 884 P.2d 455, 460 (Mont. 1994). Mazda cannot
argue, as it did at the first trial, that it is not liable
simply because the seat belt was routed under the arm.
Motion No. 4 is GRANTED and Mazda is
precluded from introducing any evidence, testimony, argument
or improper reference that any damages to Speaks resulted
from and were caused by Speaks' acts, fault, conduct or
negligence. Motion No. 7 is also GRANTED in PART and
MODIFIED as follows: while Mazda may not
characterize Speaks' use as "proper" or
"improper, " the parties may present evidence and
argue as to the factual question of the location of the seat
belt and the injuries caused by such placement. Mazda may not
use language- such as "correct, " "incorrect,
" "right, " "wrong"-that injects
fault into this strict liability action.
Mazda's Second Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
seeks summary judgment on two grounds:
1. [Speaks] cannot prove the causation element of her strict
products liability seatbelt "fit" theory because
the testimony of her biomechanical expert, Michelle Hoffman,
is inadmissible on this issue based on ...