Sanyal v. Toyota Motor North America, Inc. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION re Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge James C. Cacheris on 6/11/15. Copy mailed: yes(klau, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
TOYOTA MOTOR NORTH AMERICA,
INC. et al.,
M E M O R A N D U M
O P I N I O N
This matter is before the Court on Defendants Toyota
Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc., Toyota
Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc., and Toyota Motor Sales,
U.S.A., Inc.’s (“Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment.
For the following reasons, the Court will grant the
On July 10, 2012 pro se plaintiff Satyajit Sanyal
(“Plaintiff” or “Sanyal”) was involved in a single-vehicle
accident while driving his 2011 Toyota Camry.
15] ¶ 3.)
(Am. Compl. [Dkt.
Sanyal crashed head-on into a tree and the airbags
did not deploy.
Data collected from the Camry’s airbag
electronic control unit (“ECU”) shows the Camry had no
accelerator pedal application and no brake pedal application for
4.3 seconds prior to the crash.
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. [Dkt. 42]
at 8; see also Defs.’ Mem. in Supp., Jennifer Yaek Aff. (Ex. 7)
The ECU shows the Camry was traveling between 13.7 and
16.2 miles per hour in the 4.3 seconds before impact, and that
the Camry was traveling at 13.7 miles per hour when the Camry
hit the tree.
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. at 8; Yaek Aff. ¶ 8.)
When emergency assistance arrived at the scene of the
accident, it appeared Sanyal had lost consciousness.
Mem. in Supp. [Dkt. 42], Ex. 1, at 5.)
to Reston Hospital Center via ambulance.
Sanyal was transported
hospital, the treating physician noted that Sanyal “reportedly
had a seizure” while driving.
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp., Ex. 2, at
During the seizure, Sanyal bit his tongue and struck his
upper lip “presumably on [the] steering wheel.”
told emergency room personnel that he did not remember the
Sanyal claims that the relevant accident data from the ECU is
actually TRG3, the most recent recorded event, not TRG2, the
next most recent recorded event that Yaek and Defendants’ other
experts identify as the subject crash. (See generally Pl.’s
Opp’n [Dkt. 49] at 10.) However, according to Yaek, “the most
recent event in time recorded relative to the imaged data was
the rear impact event described by Plaintiff in his March 27,
2015 deposition.” (Yaek Aff. ¶ 5.) In his deposition, Sanyal
testified that in April 2013, another car hit his Camry from
behind. (Defs.’ Mem. in Supp., Ex. 6, at 8.) The recorded
crash event that preceded the April 2013 accident is the
accident at issue here. (Yaek Aff. ¶ 5.) Though Sanyal
questions whether TGR2 actually corresponds to the subject
accident, he puts forward no evidence that refutes Yaek’s
sequence of recorded crash events, and in fact appears to admit
through his own testimony that TGR2 is the data relevant to the
July 10, 2012 crash.
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. at 7; Pl.’s Opp’n to Defs.’
Joint Stipulation of Uncontested Facts [Dkt. 45] at 5.)
to discharge, Sanyal became “unconscious and unresponsive” for
the third time that day, and “he clearly had another seizure.”
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp., Ex. 2, at 1.)
Based on the frequency of
seizures and the fact that Sanyal lives alone, the treating
physician decided to admit Sanyal to the hospital for antiepileptic medications and neurological observation.
A neurologist examined Sanyal.
that Sanyal has a history of seizures.
Ex. 3, at 1.)
The neurologist noted
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp.,
In the consultation report, the neurologist
stated that Sanyal’s level of carbamazepine, an anti-seizure
Sanyal notes he was “transported in a state of unconsciousness”
to the hospital. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Defs.’ Joint Stipulation of
Uncontested Facts [Dkt. 45] at 5.) He denies making the
In an attempt to comply with the Court’s directive for the
parties to submit a joint statement of uncontested facts in
advance of the final pretrial conference, defense counsel
reached out to Sanyal.
Counsel provided a draft copy of
proposed uncontested facts. [Dkt. 46.] Sanyal did not respond
directly to the letter. Instead, he filed an opposition to the
proposed statement of facts. (See Pl.’s Opp’n to Defs.’ Joint
Stipulation of Uncontested Facts.) He attached this opposition
as Exhibit 2 to his opposition to Defendants’ motion for summary
judgment. (See Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. 2.)
As a pro se litigant,
Sanyal is entitled to a liberal construction of his pleadings.
Graham v. Geneva Enters., Inc., 55 F. App’x 135, 135 (4th Cir.
2003) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Therefore, the Court construes Sanyal’s opposition to the joint
stipulation of uncontested facts as his challenge to Defendants’
statement of material facts, as Defendants have incorporated
many of those facts into their argument in support of summary
medication that Sanyal was taking, was “sub-therapeutic.”
Like the treating physician, the neurologist noted that Sanyal
remembered going to work and driving to a meeting and then
waking up with emergency personnel surrounding him. 4
Sanyal was seen by a consulting physician.
physician also noted Sanyal had a history of seizures.
Mem. in Supp., Ex. 4, at 1.)
The consulting physician noted
that Sanyal had contusions around his face, scalp, and a lot of
swelling around his eyes.
The consulting physician made
a “presumed diagnosis” of post-traumatic epilepsy with
breakthrough seizures “resulting in [a] motor vehicle accident
with further episodes witnessed in the ER.”
(Id. at 3.)
consulting physician noted that Sanyal was on a “very low dose”
of anti-seizure medication.
Sanyal originally filed this action on July 30, 2014
in the Circuit Court for Fairfax County, naming Toyota Motor
North America, Inc. (“TMA”), Toyota Motor Manufacturing
California, Inc. (“TMMCA”), Toyota Motor Sales, Inc., Toyota
Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc., and Toyota Motor Engineering &
Manufacturing North America, Inc. as Defendants.
Sanyal notes that he was provided a heavy dosage of antiseizure medication at the hospital. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Defs.’
Joint Stipulation of Uncontested Facts at 8.) Such medications
are known to cause drowsiness and impede alertness. (Id.) He
does not recall making such statements to the neurologist and he
denies making such a statement. (Id.)
Removal [Dkt. 1] ¶ 1.)
All five defendants removed the case to
this Court shortly after service on the basis of diversity
(Id. ¶¶ 2-17.)
Defendants then filed a motion
requesting a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(e) [Dkt. 8], which this Court granted.
(9/30/14 Order [Dkt. 14].)
Sanyal was given leave to amend his
He did so, alleging: negligence in the design
and manufacture of his Camry (“Count 1”); strict liability for
the defective design and manufacture of the Camry, plus failure
to warn of danger and failure to adequately inspect and test the
Camry (“Count 2”); breach of express and implied warranties of
merchantability (“Count 3”); “causation and damages” (“Count
Four”); and “wanton, reckless, malicious or intentionally
wrongful conduct in gross disregard for others’ rights” (“Count
(Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-40.)
Sanyal seeks damages in the amount
(Id. ¶ 41.)
All five defendants moved to dismiss Counts Two and
Four, which the Court granted.
(See 1/15/15 Mem. Op. [Dkt. 27]
Additionally, the Court granted TMMCA and TMA’s motions
for summary judgment and dismissed them from the case.
After conducting discovery, the remaining three
defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment.
Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment on all of
Sanyal’s claims for two reasons.
First, Sanyal has no expert
witnesses to testify at trial, and therefore has no evidence
that his Camry was defective at the time of the accident or at
the time it left Defendants’ possession.
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp.
Second, Sanyal’s lack of expert witnesses leaves him
without a qualified witness to testify that the alleged defects
in the Camry caused his injuries.
(Id. at 2.)
(See generally Pl.’s Opp’n)
Having been fully
briefed and argued, this motion is ripe for disposition.
II. Legal Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate only where, on the
basis of undisputed material facts, the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
The moving party
always bears the initial burden of “informing the district court
of the basis for its motion,” and identifying the matter “it
believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.
Once a motion for
summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing
party has the burden of showing that a genuine dispute exists.
See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 586-87 (1986); see also Ray Commc’ns, Inc. v. Clear Channel
Commc’ns, Inc., 673 F.3d 294, 299 (4th Cir. 2012) (stating the
opposing party must “come forward with specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.”).
non-moving party must show more than some metaphysical doubt as
to the material facts.
“[T]he non-moving party ‘may not rest
upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
Hughes v. Bedsole, 48 F.3d 1376, 1381 (4th Cir. 1995)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256
In reviewing the record on summary judgment, the Court
“must draw any inferences in the light most favorable to the
non-movant” and “determine whether the record taken as a whole
could lead a reasonable trier of fact to find for the nonmovant.”
Brock v. Entre Computer Ctrs., Inc., 933 F.2d 1253,
1259 (4th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted).
“[A]t the summary
judgment stage the judge’s function is not himself to weigh the
evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine
whether there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Anderson, 477 U.S.
Where there is conflicting evidence, the court must
credit the evidence of both sides and acknowledge that there is
a genuine issue of material fact that cannot be resolved by
See Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S. Ct. 1861, 1868-69
(2014) (stating that summary judgment is inappropriate where
each side has put forward competent evidence that raises a
dispute about a material fact).
Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment
because Sanyal cannot prove that his Camry was defective or that
any alleged defect caused his injuries.
Each will be addressed
A. Proof of Defect
Under Virginia law, “[t]he standard of safety of goods
imposed on the seller or manufacturer is essentially the same
whether the theory of liability is labeled warranty or
Garrett v. I.R. Witzer Co., Inc., 518 S.E.2d 635,
637 (Va. 1999) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
“Under either the warranty theory or the negligence theory the
plaintiff must show, (1) that the goods were unreasonably
dangerous either for the use to which they would ordinarily be
put or for some other reasonably foreseeable purpose, and (2)
that the unreasonably dangerous condition existed when the goods
left the defendant’s hands.”
Defendants argue that Sanyal cannot show that his
Camry was, in fact, defective.
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. at 12.)
First, Defendants argue that there was no malfunction in the
In support, they offer the expert report of
William Van Arsdell. 5
Dr. Van Arsdell inspected Sanyal’s Camry.
Dr. Van Arsdell has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Mechanical
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp., Ex. 9, at 6 [hereinafter “Van Arsdell
Sanyal’s Camry is equipped with three different
airbags on the driver’s side: a front airbag, a seat-mounted
thorax side airbag, and roof-rail curtain airbag.
(Id. at 6.)
The driver’s front airbag, which is located in the steering
wheel, is not meant to deploy in every frontal crash.
Airbags are designed to deploy when the risk of injury from
an accident outweighs the potential for injury from the airbag
Experts have different methods of discussing the
deployment thresholds of front airbags, including barrier
equivalent velocity (BEV) and delta-V.
Data supplied by
Toyota indicates that the no-deploy threshold of the Camry is
11.1 miles per hour BEV with a must-deploy threshold of 16.2
miles per hour BEV.
Toyota ran a deployment confirmation
Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of
Arizona. (Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. at 15; Defs.’ Mem. in Supp., Ex.
10, ¶ [hereinafter Van Arsdell Aff.].) He has conducted over
one hundred full-scale vehicle crash tests and sled tests.
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. at 15; Van Arsdell Aff. ¶3.) He has
investigated hundreds of motor vehicle accidents. (Id.) His
research focuses on occupant protection, occupant kinematics,
accident reconstruction, mechanics, material selection, and the
deformation, fatigue and fracture of materials. (Id.) Sanyal
challenges Dr. Van Arsdell’s qualifications as an expert because
Dr. Van Arsdell is not a Toyota employee and therefore is not
knowledgeable about his Camry. (Pl.’s Opp’n at 10.)
Additionally, Dr. Van Arsdell was hired by Defendants and
therefore cannot be impartial. (Id.) The Court finds that Dr.
Van Arsdell possesses the requisite credentials to be certified
as an expert in this matter.
test at 16.6 miles per hour BEV that resulted in a delta-V of
18.8 miles per hour.
At the time of Sanyal’s accident,
data from the ECU shows a delta-V of 15.4 miles per hour.
Therefore, Dr. Van Arsdell concluded that the delta-V
was within the Camry’s “gray zone,” meaning that it was above
the no-deploy threshold but not high enough that the airbag had
Ultimately, Dr. Van Arsdell made the following
conclusions: there is no evidence that the Camry seatbelt
assembly or airbag system malfunctioned during Sanyal’s crash;
the seatbelt assemblies and the airbag system are not defective
in design, the deformation of the vehicle as pictured in
Sanyal’s photos is not indicative in and of itself of an
accident severe enough to warrant airbag deployment, and the
delta-V and BEV from Sanyal’s accident are within the gray zone
of the Camry’s front airbag system, such that an airbag
deployment would not necessarily be expected.
(Id. at 9.)
Van Arsdell also concluded that Sanyal’s Camry complied with
federal safety regulations.
Sanyal does not offer any competing expert testimony, 6
but rather proposes two reasons as to why the airbags are
At the motion hearing, Sanyal represented that he was qualified
as an expert, apparently both to discuss the Camry’s design and
to discuss causation, which the Court addresses infra. While he
listed himself as a witness on his exhibit list, he did not
First, in his deposition, Sanyal testified that
according to an NHTSA publication, front airbags should deploy
between eight and fourteen miles per hour.
(Defs.’ Mem. in
Supp., Ex. 6, at 242 [hereinafter “Sanyal Dep.”].)
Additionally, Sanyal pointed to the Camry’s safety manual, which
states that the front airbags are designed to deploy at twelve
to eighteen miles per hour.
(Id. at 242-43.)
that based on the discrepancy between the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) numbers and the numbers
in the Camry’s safety manual, his Camry is defective.
As Dr. Van Arsdell states, which Sanyal does not
provide any evidence to dispute, there is considerable variation
identify himself as an expert. (Sanyal’s Exhibit List [Dkt.
53].) Additionally, during his deposition, Sanyal testified
that he was not an expert and did not intend to present himself
as an expert witness at trial. (Defs.’ Mem. in Supp., Ex. 6, at
260.) When questioned by defense counsel, Sanyal testified that
he was not an expert in any areas relevant to determining this
motion. (Id. at 31-35, 219, 260, 289.) Because he did not
disclose himself as an expert witness on his witness list, as
required by this Court, and in light of the tension between his
deposition testimony and his representations before the Court at
the motion hearing, the Court declines to consider Sanyal as an
expert witness in this case. See Lee v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,
No. 3:10cv367-DWD, 2011 WL 796784 at *4 (E.D. Va. Mar. 1, 2011)
(“Because the newly described conversation appears only in [pro
se plaintiff’s brief in opposition], and is, therefore, not
appropriately a part of the record for the Court’s
consideration, the Court may not consider it in resolving the
motion for summary judgment.”); see also Holloway ex rel. Estate
of Holloway v. The City of Suffolk, VA, 660 F. Supp. 2d 693, 697
(E.D. Va. 2009) (“The plaintiffs, however, may not create an
issue of fact by submitting an affidavit that is inconsistent
with their prior deposition testimony.”).
in the frontal airbag deployments from one vehicle to another.
(Van Arsdell Report at 7.)
Ultimately, the NHTSA defers to
manufacturers to determine the proper deployment levels for
(Id. at 8 (citing Denial of Defect Petition –
2008 Toyota Corolla Airbags 76 C.F.R. 51120 (2011)).)
Dr. Van Arsdell reported, the Camry’s front airbags were
designed consistent with sound engineering and industry
Second, Sanyal argues that the owner’s manual
indicates that the airbags were supposed to deploy in a crash
between twelve and eighteen miles per hour, and as he was
traveling within that range, the airbags should have deployed.
Sanyal attached two pages from the owners’ manual to his
opposition to summary judgment.
The first page, titled “SRS
Airbags” states, “The SRS airbags inflate when the vehicle is
subjected to certain types of severe impacts that may cause
significant injury to the occupants.”
(Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. 8, at
Nowhere on the two pages cited by Sanyal does the owners’
manual provide a range of speed at which the airbag should
The owners’ manual, which is couched in “broad
generalities,” coupled with Sanyal’s hazy recollection of the
accident, is not enough to create a triable issue of fact in the
absence of expert testimony.
See Piltch v. Ford Motor Co., 778
F.3d 628, 633 (7th Cir. 2015) (stating that owners’ manual and
plaintiffs’ testimony about the accident, which was the only
testimony about the accident, did not move the defect claim out
of the realm of speculation and thus summary judgment for
defendant was appropriate).
Sanyal also testified that one of his Camry’s alleged
defects is the inappropriate design and placement of crash
sensors, causing the airbags to fail to deploy.
(Sanyal Dep. at
His basis for that conclusion is the photographs from
the safety manual and “common sense based on [his] personal
(Id. at 245-47.)
However, as Sanyal himself
admitted, he is not an expert in the field of sensing and/or
(Id. at 30-34.)
As issues surrounding
defective design of airbags are “beyond the ken of the average
layman,” Sanyal is not qualified to testify on this issue as a
See Wood v. Toyota Motor Corp., 760 A.2d 315, 319
(Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2000) (citation and internal quotation marks
Nor has Sanyal identified an expert who will testify
as to this defect at trial.
As the Court noted earlier, Sanyal
himself cannot be considered an expert witness in this matter.
Sanyal seems to acknowledge that determining whether defects in
his Camry caused his accident is best-suited for analysis by
expert witnesses. (Pl.’s Opp’n at 4 (“The very fact it took
several expert witnesses for the defendants to test the subject
vehicle in an attempt to defend the Plaintiff’s claims, [sic] is
a clear indication of the nature of complexity involved in
investigating the reported accident event and the claimed
Even if he could, however, his opinion is not based on
sufficient facts or data, nor is it the product of reliable
principles and methods as required by Federal Rule of Evidence
Rather, the basis for Sanyal’s opinion is his personal
belief that the sensors are defective.
Therefore, he cannot
meet his burden under Rule 56 or E.D. Va. Local Rule 56 to point
to specific parts of the record that refute Defendants’
evidence, and as such Dr. Van Arsdell’s statement that the
airbag system was working properly is deemed admitted.
R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A) (stating the nonmoving party “must
support [its] assertion by citing to particular parts of
materials in the record, including depositions, documents,
electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations,
stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion
only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other
materials[.]”); see also E.D. Va. Local Rule 56(B) (“A brief in
response to [a motion for summary judgment] shall include a
specifically captioned section listing all material facts as to
which it is contended that there exists a genuine issue
necessary to be litigated and citing parts of the record relied
upon to support the facts alleged to be in dispute.”) (emphasis
Even assuming that Sanyal had refuted Defendants’
competent evidence that there was not a design defect in his
Camry, thus creating a genuine issue of material fact sufficient
to warrant trial by jury, summary judgment is still appropriate.
Sanyal does not have any admissible evidence to meet his burden
of proof at trial.
Under Virginia law, the mere fact of an
accident does not establish the negligence of either the
manufacturer or seller of the product and does not establish
that the product was defective.
Logan v. Montgomery Ward & Co.,
Inc., 219 S.E.2d 685, 688 (Va. 1975).
In Logan, the Supreme
Court of Virginia held that the plaintiff had failed to prove,
directly or inferentially, that her injuries from her gas range
exploding were the result of any defect in the range.
The plaintiff had no expert evidence on the manufacture,
operation, or installation of gas ranges and did not have the
gas range itself.
“What caused the gas leak was not
testified to by any witness.
We can find nothing in the record
which permits us to infer that under all the circumstances, the
leak must have been caused by a defect in the oven unit of the
range which existed when it was transferred from [defendant’s]
possession to that of [plaintiff’s].”
Id. at 687-88.
there may be a suspicion that the explosion did occur because of
such defect, we are unable to discover any proof of a defect, or
any reason for a mechanical malfunction of the stove.”
Thus, in Logan, the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected res
ipsa loquitor, “the thing speaks for itself,” in products
See Wilder v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.,
Inc., 23 F. App’x 155, 157 (4th Cir. 2001) (interpreting Logan
as rejecting res ipsa loquitur in products liability cases).
Here, Sanyal has proffered the following evidence to
support his case: his own testimony about his recollection of
the accident and what he believes to be design defects in his
Camry; police and hospital records from the accident; various
news articles about Toyota recalls; and safety information from
his Camry owners’ manual and the NHTSA.
Opp’n [Dkt. 49] at 3.)
(See generally Pls.’
He has no expert evidence to show that a
defect in his Camry made it unreasonably dangerous, or that such
a defect existed when the Camry left Defendants’ possession.
“[T]here is no per se rule requiring expert testimony about the
specific defect in products liability cases, and in some cases,
circumstantial evidence alone may be used to establish product
liability in Virginia.”
Wilder, 23 F. App’x at 157.
without specific evidence of a defect, Sanyal can defeat summary
judgment “only if his evidence tends to eliminate all reasonable
possibilities that some other party or cause is to blame for the
accident, or if the facts are such that no other inference but
the existence of a defect . . . is reasonable.”
and internal quotation marks omitted).
Defendants have given a
reasonable alternative explanation as to why the front airbag
did not deploy - Sanyal’s car, which complied with federal
safety standards, was not traveling fast enough for the front
airbag to have to deploy.
Sanyal has failed to refute this
alternative explanation for the defect, and as such summary
judgment is appropriate.
See Wilder, 23 F. App’x at 156-57
(upholding summary judgment where plaintiff had failed to offer
any evidence as to how or when the alleged dangerous condition
in the airbag system came into existence).
During the course of litigation, Sanyal appears to
have alleged an additional defect not mentioned in the
(See generally Pl.’s Opp’n at 12-13.)
alleges that the Camry experienced an unintended acceleration
which caused the crash.
(Pl.’s Opp’n at 12.)
defect was not alleged in the complaint, the Court declines to
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) (“A pleading that
states a claim for relief must contain a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.”); Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 (describing the procedure to amend
However, to the extent that such a defect could be
gleaned from the face of the complaint, summary judgment is
Sanyal has not offered any evidence to show
that his Camry experienced unintended acceleration or that such
a defect existed when the Camry left Defendants’ possession.
(See Sanyal Dep. at 236-239 (stating his belief that his Camry
experienced unintended acceleration was based on news reports
and the NHTSA investigation).)
Furthermore, Defendants have
proffered the expert report of Karl Stopchinski (“Stopchinski”).
Stopchinksi’s report contains the following conclusions: (1) a
malfunction of the electronic throttle control system was not
the cause of the loss of control.
Absent application of the
accelerator pedal by the driver, the vehicle would not
accelerate; (2) a malfunction of the cruise control system was
not the cause of the loss of control of the car; (3) there were
no vehicle conditions that existed in the Camry that would cause
acceleration of the vehicle without the driver pressing the
accelerator pedal; (4) entrapment of the accelerator pedal by
the floor mat was not the cause of the crash; (5) a slowly
returning accelerator pedal was not the cause of the crash; (6)
the brake and throttle systems are separate systems, such that
use of one will not cause the malfunction of the other; and (7)
application of the brakes in the Camry will prevent the vehicle
from accelerating and will cause it to decelerate even with the
throttle held fully open.
(Defs.’ Mem. in Supp., Ex. 11, at 2-
As before, Sanyal has no competing expert testimony and has
not put forward any circumstantial evidence that “tends to
eliminate all reasonable possibilities that some other party or
cause is to blame for the accident.”
Wilder, 23 F. App’x at
Therefore, summary judgment for Defendants is appropriate
on the alleged unintended acceleration defect. 8
B. Proof of Causation
A plaintiff must show a causal connection between the
defect and his alleged injuries.
See, e.g., Hartwell v. Danek
Med., Inc., 47 F. Supp. 2d 703, 707 (W.D. Va. 1999).
of products liability in Virginia does not permit recovery where
responsibility is conjectural.’”
(citing Boyle v. United
Techs. Corp., 792 F.2d 413, 415 (4th Cir. 1986)).
To succeed on
a products liability claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate that
a product defect is the only reasonable explanation or cause of
the complained-of injury.
Id. (citing Boyle, 792 F.2d at 416).
Even if Sanyal could establish a prima facie case of a
defect and that such a defect existed at the time his Camry left
Defendants’ possession, summary judgment for Defendants is still
appropriate because Sanyal cannot show that his injuries were
caused by any alleged defects in his Camry.
Sanyal does not
dispute that prior to the accident, he had a history of
He maintains that the claims in this lawsuit are for
aggravation of his seizures.
(Pl.’s Opp’n at 8.)
medical history reports prior to the subject accident do not
Stopchinksi’s report notes that according to the Toyota
Technical Information System, Sanyal’s Camry has not been
involved in any Toyota Service Campaigns. (Defs.’ Mem. in
Supp., Ex. 11, at 6.)
contain any Doctors [sic] observations of multiple back-to-back
seizures spanned within several hours, which was clearly
observed and reported in the Reston Hospital records from the
subject accident event.”
However, Sanyal does not demonstrate that the crash is
the only reasonable explanation for his back-to-back seizures.
In fact, the medical records cited by Sanyal state that level of
anti-seizure medication Sanyal was taking was “sub-therapeutic,”
meaning less than optimal to address his seizures.
This is one
possible alternative explanation as to why he suffered several
seizures in one day, though certainly not the only explanation.
Beyond the fact that Sanyal was involved in the accident and
then soon thereafter experienced multiple seizures, Sanyal
provides no additional evidence linking the accident to the
increased frequency of seizures.
“Proving cause by an expert in
a products liability action is not mandatory under Virginia law;
however, in a products liability action, proof of causation must
ordinarily be supported by expert testimony because of the
complexity of the causation facts.”
Gauthreaux v. United
States, 694 F. Supp. 2d 460, 465 (E.D. Va. 2009) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted).
Correlation does not equal
This Court cannot infer that the increase in
seizures after the accident means that the accident caused the
increased frequency of seizures.
See id. (stating plaintiff’s
claim failed because there was an absence of proof regarding the
technical subject matter of whether the design and manufacture
of the forklift caused plaintiff’s accident); see also Piltch,
778 F.3d at 634 (stating that “without expert testimony, a lay
juror could not distinguish between the injuries caused by the
collision and the enhanced injuries caused by the airbags’
failure to deploy without engaging in pure speculation.”).
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant
Sanyal will have thirty days from the date
of this Memorandum Opinion and accompanying Order to notice his
An appropriate order will issue.
June 11, 2015
James C. Cacheris
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
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