Fatal highway accident blamed on faulty manufacture of motor home. Defense verdict. Sonoma County.

Summary

Family members killed when their car skids on fluid in roadway; fluid leak blamed on motor home found disabled nearby.  Plaintiffs claim defective design and  manufacture of motor home.

The Case

  • Case Name: Menera v. Country Coach Corporation & Mega RV Corp., et al., consolidated with Ayala, et al., v. Country Coach Corporation & Mega RV Corp., et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Sonoma County Superior Court / SCV253007 & SCV 254843 (consolidated actions)
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, May 17, 2016
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, January 07, 2013
  • Type of Action: Breach of Warranty, Negligence, Products Liability, Strict Liability, Vehicles - Freeway, Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Allan D. Hardcastle
  • Plaintiffs:
    V. Menera, a minor
    J. Ayala, a minor
    J.S. Ayala, a minor
    H. Ayala, a minor
    Jose Ayala
  • Defendants:
    Country Coach Corporation
    Mega RV Corp.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: Directed Verdict for Country Coach after all parties had rested / Defense Verdict for Mega RV
  • Net Verdict or Award: N/A
  • Settlement Amount: N/A
  • Economic Damages:

    Medical damages as to Menera plaintiff only – approximately $10,000. Loss of support damages waived. Future psychiatric treatment claimed for all plaintiffs.

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $24 million - $48 million per plaintiff for wrongful death, and future psychiatric damages.

  • Punitive Damages:

    N/A

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days.
  • Jury Polls: 12 – 0 on design defect in favor of defendants; 9-3 on manufacturing defect in favor of defendants.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Motion for new trial by plaintiffs - denied by trial judge.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Greene Broillet by Browne Greene, Santa Monica.

    Balaban and Spielberger LLP by Daniel K. Balaban, Los Angeles.

    Abbey Weitzenberg Warren & Emery PC by Michael D. Green and Scott R. Montgomery, Santa Rosa.

    Ruvalcaba | Romero by Sandra Romero, Ventura.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Law Office of Damien Morozumi by Damien Morozumi, San Francisco. (For Country Coach Corporation.)

    Stone & Associates APC by Ronald Berestka, Jr., Colette Stone and Juliet Lompa, Walnut Creek. (For Mega RV Corp.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Robert Koetting, accident reconstruction, Redding.

    David Rondinone, Ph.D., P.E., mechanical engineering, Berkeley.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Ted Kobayashi, accident reconstruction, Livermore.

    Roman Beyer, mechanical engineering, Los Altos Hills.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Triple wrongful death action. Plaintiffs include surviving four minor children and one adult child. Two adults and an infant child were killed in an automobile accident allegedly due to power fluid leaking onto the freeway from defendant William's motor home.

    Plaintiffs claimed that on August 23, 2012, the decedent's vehicle ran over power steering fluid and lost control, crossing over the center median of Highway 101, into an oncoming SUV traveling the opposite direction.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the fluid on the roadway had come from defendants' motor home was a contested issue in this case; however, there were several pieces of evidence pointing to the power fluid leaking onto the highway from the motor home.  First, before the accident occurred, there was a 911 call from a motorist driving in the same direction as the motor home, who is recorded stating that she and her husband just drove through an oil slick on the roadway, and that it appeared to have come from a motor home stopped on the side of the road.  Second, Mr. Williams’ motor home was stopped south, or after the accident scene, on the side of the roadway.  The power steering hose on his motor home had a hole in it, and plaintiffs claim it leaked several gallons of power steering fluid.  Third, plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the loss of control was consistent with the decedent’s vehicle running over oil in a turn, and losing control and crossing over the center median.  Fourth, there was evidence of an unidentified witness stopping behind the motor home on the side of the road advising the owner of the motor home that he was spraying oil onto the roadway.

    Plaintiffs claimed that the power steering hose was mounted under the chassis of the motor home, leaving it exposed to scraping the ground when the vehicle bottomed out, resulting in the worn hose bursting under pressure and releasing the power steering fluid. Plaintiffs claimed that the hose was mounted under the chassis due to a manufacturing or design defect. Plaintiffs' evidence that the hose was originally routed under the chassis was the position of the hose at the time of the accident, which was mounted under the chassis and had leaked.

    That the subject motor home was designed and manufactured by a defunct company named Country Coach, LLC., and was the predecessor company to Country Coach Corporation, that purchased some of the assets of the predecessor company in a bankruptcy sale.

    Plaintiffs sued Mega RV, the retail seller, and Country Coach Corporation, who purchased assets from the bankrupt manufacturer of the motor home. Both defendants were sued under a theory of strict products liability. Plaintiffs also alleged successor liability against Country Coach.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants originally contested that oil leaking from the motor home was what caused decedent’s vehicle to lose control. 

    At trial, defendants contended that the hose was not originally mounted under the chassis; rather was originally mounted above the chassis, and was subsequently changed by the owner of the motor home that was also a defendant in this action, but settled prior to trial.

    The manufacturer of the motor home, Country Coach LLC, which went bankrupt in 2009, did not participate in the case or assist in any manner. Accordingly, the retail seller, Mega RV Corp., and subsequent purchaser of assets from the manufacturer, Country Coach Corporation, were tasked with defending a product that it neither manufactured nor designed, with no assistance from the manufacturer.

    The defense located former employees of the manufacturer and followed up on any leads that would help piece together the maintenance and repair history of the subject motor home. It was through this work that defendants' counsel were able to locate a supervisor for the manufacturer who had knowledge of the manufacturing process. Defendants were able to establish that if the hose was improperly mounted below the chassis as plaintiffs claimed, the hose would have blocked the application of undercoating onto the underside of the chassis in that location, leaving behind evidence of a shadow on the chassis where the hose would have blocked the application of undercoating.

     

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Wrongful death of two parents and infant child.

    One minor plaintiff, Menera was a passenger in the decedent's vehicle. She sustained a broken ankle.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: Approximately $10,000.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: Waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: Waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: Loss of Consortium.

Additional Notes

The jury agreed that the absence of the “shadow”meant the hose must have been re-routed after it left the factory, and therefore the vehicle was not defectively designed or manufactured. Country Coach Corporation located the trustee who presided over the Chapter 7 bankruptcy of the predecessor company, who testified that Country Coach Corporation did not cause or contribute to the predecessor company needing to declare bankruptcy, which was one of the elements of successor liability.

 

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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