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Stubblefield v. Suzuki Motor Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 30, 2018

BRADLEY STUBBLEFIELD and KRISTAN STUBBLEFIELD PLAINTIFFS
v.
SUZUKI MOTOR CORP., and SUZUKI MOTOR OF AMERICA, INC. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE EVIDENCE OF OTHER ACCIDENTS, LAWSUITS, AND CLAIMS OF FRONT BRAKE ISSUES ON GSX-R MOTORCYCLES

          HENRY T. WINGATE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         BEFORE THIS COURT is the defendants' Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Other Accidents, Lawsuits, and Claims of Front Brake Issues on GSX-R Motorcycles [Docket no. 270]. By its motion Suzuki Motor Corp. (hereinafter referred to as “SMC”) asks this court to exclude all evidence of specific other incidents involving GSX-R motorcycles and the related front brake master cylinder (hereinafter referred to as “FBMC”) at issue here. According to SMC, those other incidents - some of which resulted in lawsuits filed against SMC - are irrelevant and must be excluded because they are not “substantially similar” to the facts of the lawsuit sub judice. Further, says SMC, the introduction of the pleadings of the other lawsuits are hearsay. Finally, SMC says that the introduction of such other incidents would be unfairly prejudicial to it.

         Plaintiffs oppose SMC's motion in limine saying that the other incidents are relevant and that, while such are prejudicial, the introduction of such would not be unfairly prejudicial.

         I. FACTUAL BASIS

         SMC's motion in limine is necessarily fact driven and, thus, this court will recite a brief synopsis of the facts as this court appreciates them based upon the submissions of the parties. “It is well settled that, before evidence of other crashes can be admitted into evidence, a plaintiff must present a factual foundation for the court to determine that the other crashes were ‘substantially similar' to the crash at issue.” Graves ex rel. W.A.G. v. Toyota Motor Corp., No. 2:09CV169KS-MTP, 2012 WL 32960, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Jan. 6, 2012) (Citing Mills v. Beech Aircraft Corp., Inc., 886 F.2d 758, 762 (5th Cir.1989); McGonigal v. Gearhart Industries, Inc., 851 F.2d 774, 778 (5th Cir.1986); Jackson v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 788 F.2d 1070, 1082-83 (5th Cir.1986)).

         a. Stubblefield Facts

         Plaintiff Brad Stubblefield (hereinafter referred to as “Stubblefield”) purchased a used Suzuki GSX-R 1000 in 2010 from a private seller in the State of Georgia. After he purchased the motorcycle, Stubblefield rode the motorcycle most days to work - excepting when the weather did not allow, for example when the roads were icy or the weather called for severe storms. Stubblefield personally maintained his motorcycle, following SMC's recommended maintenance schedule.

         On January 12, 2012, Stubblefield was riding the subject motorcycle to work and was attempting to utilize the on-ramp for Interstate 55 South near Madison, Mississippi. Acccording to eyewitnesses, they did not observe Stubblefield attempt to apply his brakes, front or rear. Stubblefield, for some reason(s) that the parties vigorously contest[1], did not turn onto the on-ramp; instead, he traveled across the cement gore and into a ravine. When he reached the bottom of the ravine, Stubblefield crashed and the motorcycle came to a rest laying atop of him. Stubblefield allegedly became a paraplegic as a result of the accident. Stubblefield has no recollection of the date of his accident.

         Stubblefield and his family thought that the reason for the accident was that Stubblefield had lost control of the subject motorcycle while transiting the gravel in the roadway immediately before the concrete gore. The Stubblefields persisted in this notion until SMC issued a product recall on October 18, 2013, at which point they changed their opinion about what had caused the subject accident.

         b. Augustine Facts

         Somige Augustine (hereinafter referred to as “Augustine”), a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, purchased a used 2009 GSX-R 1000 in a used condition from a private seller in July 2015, without any knowledge of the prior maintenance or accident history of his motorcycle. Augustine rode his motorcycle for recreational purposes only - putting 1, 900 miles on the motorcycle since he had purchased the vehicle ten (10) months before. Augustine performed no maintenance on his motorcycle.

         At some date unknown to this court, Augustine rode his motorcycle for approximately nine (9) miles and stopped fourteen (14) times. After his initial ride, Augustine parked his motorcycle for a few hours and then rode it again later that same day. During his subsequent ride, Augustine allegedly experienced a loss of his front brake pressure when he first applied his front brake requiring him to “bail-off” of his motorcycle. As a result of his “bailing off” Augustine suffered scrapes and sore muscles. After his accident, SMC says that an inspection of Augustine's motorcycle revealed a leaking brake line. Allegedly, the recall work had never been performed after Augustine's accident, but his friends performed repairs, after which Augustine said his motorcycle performed as expected.

         c. Knepper Facts

         Josh Knepper (hereinafter referred to as “Knepper”) purchased a 2008 GSX-R 600 motorcycle in a used condition from a private seller in 2011. Knepper experienced two (2) accidents on his motorcycle. On September 28, 2012, Knepper rode his motorcycle approximately 30-40 miles to another town and experienced no issues. When he was returning from that other town, a pickup truck in front of Knepper vigorously applied its brakes causing Knepper to do the same. Knepper was unable to stop his motorcycle completely. He struck the rear of the pick up and went over the handlebars. Knepper ultimately landed in the pickup truck's bed with no major injuries. Knepper parked his motorcycle for several month before repairing and riding it again.

         On June 5, 2013, Knepper rode his motorcycle to a location near his home and applied his front brake 15-20 times before arriving at his destination. When he was returning home, a pickup truck made an abrupt left turn in front of Knepper, again forcing Knepper to rapidly apply his brakes. Knepper was travelling 50-55 miles per hour and could not stop - he hit the left rear wheel of the pickup truck. Knepper required no medical attention and he rode his motorcycle home after the accident. From the pleadings, this court is unable to discern if the parties allege that Knepper lost front brake pressure during either accident.

         d. Nichols Facts

         Sergio Nichols (hereinafter referred to as “Nichols”) purchased a GSX-R 600 in a used condition from a private seller in 2010 or 2011. Nichols experienced front brake issues for weeks before his accident - he would lose front brake pressure while riding, but restore it by pumping the front brake lever several times while riding. On the date of his accident, Nichols had ridden his motorcycle all day without incident. During the late evening hours, while riding, Nichols allegedly lost front brake pressure while in a curve and lost control of his motorcycle. Nichols ran into a ditch and his motorcycle eventually came to a rest in the road where it was struck by another vehicle. This court cannot determine whether Nichols sustained any injury.

         e. Trujillo Facts

         Kristen Trujillo (hereinafter referred to as “Trujillo”) purchased a new GSX-R 600 from a dealership. Trujillo left her motorcycle parked for a period of two (2) months without riding it. On the date of her accident, she tested her front brake before operating the motorcycle and it functioned as expected. Trujillo then took her motorcycle for a ride and within minutes both her front and rear brakes stopped working.

         f. Girard Facts

         Derek Girard (hereinafter referred to as “Girard”) bought a 2007 GSX-R 600 in a new condition in April 2007. Girard operated his motorcycle for six (6) years, storing it for approximately half of the year (from late fall through the spring). Girard never had issues with his brakes. On the date of his accident, Girard allegedly was involved in a single vehicle accident. There were no eyewitness, no police reports, and no injuries. Girard kept his motorcycle, repaired it, and at least as late as August 26, 2017, still rode it without issue.

         g. Winkler Facts

         Scott Winkler (hereinafter referred to as “Winkler”) brought a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the Fourth Judicial Circuit of Duval County, Florida. (Winkler v. Suzuki Motor Corp. et al, No. 16-2014-CA-004130; Division CV-G). Winkler substantially modified his motorcycle, so much so that it was no longer considered street legal.[2] Winkler had raced his motorcycle earlier in the day at Roeblin Track in southern Georgia. Winkler had replaced the brake fluid two (2) days earlier. While driving at night, Winkler struck another vehicle that had turned in front of him. According to SMC, within minutes of his accident, Winkler tested his front brake and found that it performed as expected.

         h. Soulliere Facts

         Thomas Soulliere (hereinafter referred to as “Soulliere”) filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California, Orange County (No. 30-2015-00790644) after having an accident where another vehicle abruptly pulled out in front of Soulliere. In Soulliere's case, he is no longer in possession of the motorcycle, therefore, the FBMC cannot be compared to that of Stubblefield's.

         i. ...


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