Plaintiff lacks evidence to bring faulty airbag claim against Toyota Motor Corp. to trial

By Scott Holland | Apr 7, 2019

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has ruled Toyota does not have to face a lawsuit regarding an allegedly faulty airbag in a 2009 Corolla.

In an opinion issued March 14, Judge Barry Ashe of the U.S. District Court of Eastern Louisiana granted Toyota Motor Corp.’s motion to dismiss a complaint from Robert Moore, who sued the company under the Louisiana Products Liability Act. According to Moore, he bought the used car in 2014, and while driving it in January 2016 the airbag suddenly deployed, causing him to drive into a utility pole, leading to head injuries and the loss of his left eye.

Toyota said Moore didn’t produce enough evidence to prove liability, noting there had been no expert inspection of the car and, because it was sold to an insurance company, the only remaining evidence was two photographs of the crash scene. Toyota said Moore can’t prove the car had its original airbag at the time of the crash.

Moore countered by saying he is allowed to use circumstantial evidence, and that after discovery he would “'demonstrate at trial through the testimony of first responders, medical personnel, photographs, medical records, CarFax reports, etc., which were all previously submitted to the defendants,’ the existence of the defect and its causation of his injuries,” according to Ashe.

However, Moore never filed supplemental opposition to Toyota’s motion for summary judgment. Though he did ultimately file a statement of material facts, Ashe ruled he should have done so months earlier with the original complaint. Further, even if Moore were allowed to use circumstantial evidence, Toyota would be afforded the same opportunity to present its theory that Moore crashed the car causing the airbag to deploy, that the airbag was replaced or tampered with, and/or that Moore’s injuries actually came from a gunshot wound.

Neither Moore nor his girlfriend inspected the car when they bought it, and no one knows where the car is presently, Ashe said. The Corolla had 9,947 miles on the odometer when Moore bought it, and he said he can’t recall if he inquired about its accident history. He further denied a personal or professional inspection and said he didn’t ask for a vehicle report, although in his opinion as a diesel engine mechanic, he didn’t think it had been in a collision.

After the crash, University Medical Center of New Orleans doctors attributed his brain damage and eye injury to ballistic fragments. While in the intensive care unit, the New Orleans Police Department towed the Corolla. Moore doesn’t remember the crash and said the trauma resulted in short-term memory loss. Ashe said Moore’s lawyer took two pictures of the Corolla before Moore’s girlfriend sold it to her insurance company.

The lack of evidence, Ashe decided, means Moore failed to rebut Toyota’s plausible alternative of an aftermarket airbag having been installed. Even if Toyota did make the airbag, Ashe continued, Moore failed to provide sufficient evidence to sustain a state liability law claim under any of its four acceptable theories.

Specifically, Ashe wrote, Moore didn’t show the airbag was unreasonably dangerous in construction or composition; or design; because of inadequate warning; or because of noncomformity to express warranty.

Ashe dismissed Moore’s complaint with prejudice.

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