United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
Francis H. Casola and J. Walton Milam, III, Woods Rogers,
PLC, Roanoke, Virginia, for Plaintiff
Christopher C. Spencer and Mark C. Shuford, Spencer Shuford
LLP, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones, United States District Judge.
products liability case removed from state court, defendant
Subaru of America, Inc. has moved to dismiss the Complaint
for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. For the reasons that follow, I will deny the
defendant's Motions to Dismiss.
Complaint alleges the following facts, which I must accept as
true in considering the Motion to Dismiss.
August 7, 2017, the plaintiff, Rebecca Rentz James, was
driving a 2011 Subaru Outback. While she was making a right
turn, the right front fender made brief contact with a tree
adjacent to the road. This brush with the tree caused only
minor damage to the fender and posed no risk of harm to
James. After the vehicle contacted the tree, James was able
to correct the vehicle's direction and bring it to a stop
in the right lane.
the passenger side of the vehicle had touched the tree only
lightly, the vehicle's driver side curtain airbag
deployed. The airbag struck James on the upper left side of
her body and injured her cervical spine and neck. James
alleges that such a minor accident was foreseeable to Subaru
of America and that the brief, non-dangerous contact
should not have triggered deployment of the airbag. She
further alleges that the airbag deployed with excessive and
dangerous force. It was foreseeable to the defendant that
such an unnecessary deployment of the airbag posed an
unreasonable risk of harm.
Complaint asserts claims of breach of the implied warranty of
merchantability (Count I), negligence (Count II), and failure
to warn (Count III). James seeks compensory damages.
pleading standards require that a complaint contain a
“short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal
sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff
has properly stated a claim. See Edwards v. City of
Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). In order
to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must
“state a plausible claim for relief” that
“permit[s] the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct” based upon its
“judicial experience and common sense.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). In
evaluating a pleading, the court accepts as true all
well-pled facts. Id.
complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to
survive a motion to dismiss; however, it must have more than
labels and conclusions or a recitation of the elements of the
cause of action. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility
when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
“To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not
forecast evidence sufficient to prove the elements of the
claim.” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439
(4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation
this is a diversity case and the relevant events occurred in
Virginia, the substantive law of Virginia applies. See,
e.g., Redman v. John D. Brush & Co., 111
F.3d 1174, 1177 (4th Cir. 1997); Erie R.R. v.
Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78-79 (1938). “Virginia has
not adopted a strict liability regime for products liability.
When alleging that a product suffered from a design defect, a
plaintiff may proceed under a theory of implied warranty of
merchantability or under a theory of negligence.”
Evans v. Nacco Materials Handling Grp., Inc., 810
S.E.2d 462, 469 (2018). Here, the plaintiff proceeds under
both theories. A manufacturer breaches its duty to warn if it
has reason to know that a product is dangerous for the use
for which it is supplied, has no reason to believe the user
will realize the dangerous condition, and fails to exercise
reasonable care to inform users of the dangerous condition.
Jones v. Ford Motor Co., 559 S.E.2d 592, 600 (Va.
recover in a Virginia products liability case, a plaintiff
must plead and prove that the product in question contained a
defect that rendered it unreasonably dangerous for ordinary
or foreseeable use. Alevromagiros v. Hechinger Co.,
993 F.2d 417, 420 (4th Cir. 1993). The plaintiff must also
establish “that the unreasonably dangerous condition
existed when the goods left the defendant's hands.”
Logan v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 219 S.E.2d 685,
687 (Va. 1975). In determining whether a product contained a
defect rendering it unreasonably dangerous, the “court
will consider safety standards promulgated by the government
or the relevant industry, as well as the reasonable
expectations of consumers.” Alevromagiros, 993
F.2d at 420. In this case, James relies on consumer
expectations rather than government or industry standards.
The defendant contends that she has not ...