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Wells v. Kawasaki Motors Corp.

United States District Court, D. Utah

November 7, 2019

NICOLE WELLS, Plaintiff,
v.
KAWASAKI MOTORS CORP., U.S.A., a Delaware corporation, KAWASAKI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, LTD., a Japanese corporation, and H20 ZONE, LLC, an Arizona limited liability company, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING [214] DEFENDANTS KAWASAKI MOTORS CORP., U.S.A. AND KAWASAKI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, LTD.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          DAVID NUFFER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         District Judge David Nuffer Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. (“KMC”) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. (“KHI”) (collectively the “Kawasaki Defendants”) move for summary judgment (the “Motion”)[1] on the three causes of action against them in Plaintiff Nicole Wells' (“Plaintiff”) Complaint: strict products liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.[2] Plaintiff opposed[3] the Motion as to the strict products liability and negligence causes of action, but does not oppose the Motion as to her breach of warranty cause of action which she concedes is duplicative of her other two causes of action.[4] The Kawasaki defendants replied in support.[5] Because the experts that would have provided the expert testimony required to support the strict products liability and negligence causes of action have been excluded, [6] the Motion is Granted.

         Plaintiff alleges that she suffered an orifice injury during a trip to Lake Powell in 2015 when she fell off the back of a personal watercraft (“PWC”) manufactured by the Kawasaki Defendants.[7] Plaintiff maintains her injury is attributable to defects in the PWC. She brings strict products liability and negligence causes of action against the Kawasaki Defendants.[8] Central to these causes of action are Plaintiff's allegations that inadequate warnings were placed on the PWC (a failure to warn claim) and that the design of the PWC's seat permitted riders to fall backwards as Plaintiff did (a design defect claim).[9]

         Initially, plaintiff designated Anand Kasbekar and Wilson Hayes as experts that would testify concerning her design defect claim.[10] Plaintiff then indicated that Wilson Hayes would be testifying only as a rebuttal expert and not as part of Plaintiff's case-in-chief.[11] Plaintiff also designated Joellen Gill as the expert that would testify concerning her failure to warn claim.[12] Defendants moved to exclude the proposed the proposed expert testimonies of Kasbekar and Gill under Fed.R.Evid. 702[13] and those motions were granted.[14]

         It has been previously decided that, as the 2015 PWC incident occurred on navigable waters, maritime law is applicable in this case.[15] Other courts applying maritime law to design defects and failure to warn claims involving personal or recreational watercraft have determined that a plaintiff is required to provide expert evidence or opinion supporting those claims.[16] And because maritime law is “drawn from state and federal sources”[17] this determination is reinforced by decisions within this district that have required plaintiffs to provide expert testimony in support of design defect and failure to warn claims.[18]

         Absent expert testimony, Plaintiffs' design defect and failure to warn claims fail. As the Plaintiff's strict products liability and negligence causes of action are based on these claims Summary Judgment for the Kawasaki Defendants on these causes of action is appropriate. The Motion is granted.

         ORDER

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.'s Motion for Summary Judgment[19] is GRANTED. Plaintiff's causes of action against Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.-strict products liability, negligence, and breach of warranty-are dismissed with prejudice.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED as follows:

1) Defendant H2O Zone LLC has asserted a crossclaim against Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd., that seeks allocation and contribution.[20] The parties are ORDERED to meet and confer and provide a status update no later than November 13, 2019 regarding the effect on that crossclaim of dismissal of Plaintiff's causes of action against Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.
2) The remaining motions to exclude[21] filed by Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. seek to exclude experts designated by Plaintiff as rebuttal witnesses. The dismissal of Plaintiff's causes of action against Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. would appear to make those motions moot. As part of the status report, the parties are ORDERED to indicate whether ruling on those motions is still necessary or if those motions are in fact moot after the entry of this memorandum decision and order. Signed November 7, 2019

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Notes:

[1] Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.'s Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support, docket no. ...


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