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Daniels v. Prevost Car U.S., Inc.

United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division

February 4, 2015

JASON EVERETT DANIELS, Plaintiff,
v.
PREVOST CAR U.S., INC. and NOVA BUS INC., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

LINDA V. PARKER, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Jason Everett Daniels (“Daniels”) filed this diversity lawsuit on September 4, 2013, seeking damages for injuries he sustained when an air spring he was installing on his employer’s transit bus model 82VN Bus (“the bus”) exploded.[1] The bus was manufactured and sold to Daniels’ employer by Defendant Nova Bus Incorporated (“Nova”), which subsequently was purchased or acquired by Defendant Prevost Car U.S. Inc. (Prevost). In his Complaint, Daniels alleges that the bus was defective and relies on breach of implied warranty (Count I) and negligence (Count II) theories of liability. Specifically, Daniels claims that the instructions provided in the maintenance manual for the bus failed to instruct mechanics on how to properly get the studs on the bottom of the air spring through the holes in the spring beam to which it is attached. (See ECF No. 30 at Pg ID 243) He also claims that the air spring was defective to the extent that it required air to elongate the spring so the studs would fit through the spring beam, did not have threaded studs to secure it, and was of inadequate strength and exploded when Daniels introduced air into it. (Id.)

Presently before the Court is Defendants’ motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (ECF No. 28.) Defendants contend that Daniels cannot establish the necessary elements of his design defect claim and that his claim based on inadequate instructions fails because he and his employer are “sophisticated users.” Daniels filed a response to Defendants’ motion. (ECF No. 30.) Defendants filed a reply brief. (ECF No. 32.) This Court held a motion hearing on January 14, 2015. For the reasons that follow, the Court now grants Defendants’ motion.

I. Factual Background

Daniels is a licensed mechanic who graduated from the Michigan Career Institute in 1993. (ECF No. 28, Ex. A at 14-16.) Daniels briefly worked as a mechanic in two small garages following his graduation; but within seven months of graduation, he secured a job as an auto repairmen with the City of Detroit’s Department of Public Works. (Id. at 16-19.) In 1996, Daniels became a general auto mechanic in the department. (Id. at 19.)

At that time, Daniels moved from the auto repair line to the heavy truck line. (Id. at 20.) In 2005, Daniels was transferred to the City of Detroit Department of Transportation (“DDOT”), where he began servicing and repairing transit buses. (Id. at 21.) Daniels was stationed at DDOT’s main garage for two to three months, where he received on-the-job and classroom training on transit bus electrical systems, air systems, wheelchair ramps, engines, and transmissions. (Id. at 53-54, 55-56.) At that time, Daniels received a service manual for the transit bus in question and reviewed its instructions for air spring removal and installation. (Id. at 72-73.) According to Daniels, his specialty in the garage was suspensions. (Id. at 74.) Daniels believes that before the incident that is the subject of this lawsuit, he had replaced between twenty to twenty-five air springs on Nova transit buses. (Id. at 80.)

On September 8, 2010, Daniels’ foreman instructed him to complete a rear air spring replacement on the bus which already had been started. (Id. at 82.) The bus had been sold to DDOT in 2001 by Nova, which also had manufactured it. (ECF No. 30, Ex. 2 at 10.) The air spring Daniels needed to install on the bus was distributed by Prevost, although it was manufactured by Goodyear. (Id. at 29-32.) The part was sitting by the bus when Daniels began the work. (ECF No. 28, Ex. A at 88.)

Once in the pit under the bus, Daniels attached the mounting plate to the replacement air spring. (Id. at 89.) He then matched the air spring mounting plate to the mounting plate on the spring beam of the bus and attached the bus air line to the air spring’s air fitting. (Id. at 89, 94.) Next, Daniels secured the top part of the air spring mounting plate to the mounting plate on the body beam of the bus. He began experiencing difficulty when he attempted to insert the final studs to secure the two plates. (Id. at 92, 94.) In an attempt to elongate the air spring so the studs would descend down and through the holes in the spring beam mounting plate, Daniels introduced air into it using the shop compressor. (Id. at 92, 94-100.) As he did so, the air spring exploded, striking Daniels in the face and causing injuries to his mouth and jaw. (Id. at 100-01.)

The Maintenance Manual for the bus provides that the normal operating pressure is “110-130 psi.” (ECF No. 30, Ex. 3 at Pg ID 273.) Daniels felt confident introducing air into the air spring using the shop compressor because it did not have pressure over 130 psi. (Id., Ex. 4 ¶ 6.) The Maintenance Manual did not provide instructions for inserting the studs into the bottom of the air spring through the holes in the spring beam. (See ECF No. 30, Ex. 3 at Pg ID 276.)

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is appropriate “if the movant shows that 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). The central inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). After adequate time for discovery and upon motion, Rule 56(c) mandates summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case and on which that party bears the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The movant has an initial burden of showing “the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. Once the movant meets this burden, the “nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’ ” Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). To demonstrate a genuine issue, the nonmoving party must present sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for that party; a “scintilla of evidence” is insufficient. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252.

“A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed” must designate specifically the materials in the record supporting the assertion, “including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The court must accept as true the non-movant’s evidence and ...


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