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Heco v. Foster Motors

Supreme Court of Vermont

January 9, 2015

Dzemila Heco, Kenan Heco and Emir Heco
v.
Foster Motors, Midstate Dodge, LLC and Johnson Controls, Inc., et al

Motion for Reargument Denied February 4, 2015.

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On Appeal from Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Civil Division. Geoffrey W. Crawford, J.

Thomas M. Higgins of Pierson Wadhams Quinn Yates & Coffrin, LLP, Burlington, and Peter M. Durney and James P. Kerr of Cornell & Gollub, Boston, Massachusetts, for Cross-Claim Plaintiff/Appellant Midstate Dodge, LLC.

John T. Sartore and Stephen J. Soule of Paul Frank Collins P.C., Thomas McCormick of McCormick, Fitzpatrick, Kasper & Burchard, PC, Burlington, Richard K. Wray and Tracy G. Ferak of Reed Smith LLP, Chicago, Illinois, and James M. Beck of Reed Smith LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Cross-Claim Defendant/Appellee Johnson Controls, Inc.

Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund and Robinson, JJ., and Zonay, Supr. J., Specially Assigned

OPINION

SKOGLUND, J.

[¶1]  Midstate Dodge, LLC appeals from a superior court judgment in favor of Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI) on Midstate's

Page 903

cross-claim for indemnification of compensation paid to plaintiff Dzemila Heco in settlement of a personal-injury action. We affirm, albeit on a different basis from the trial court.

[¶2] The undisputed facts may be summarized as follows. In August 2007, plaintiff was severely injured when a 2000 Dodge Neon that she was driving was struck from behind by another vehicle. In July 2010, she filed a personal-injury action against Midstate, the automobile dealer that sold her the vehicle; Chrysler Group LLC, the company that was formed when following the bankruptcy of Chrysler Corporation, which manufactured the vehicle; JCI, which manufactured the vehicle's driver's seat; and Autoliv ASP, Inc., which manufactured the vehicle's seatbelts.[1]

[¶3] In her original and second amended complaints, plaintiff alleged that she suffered spinal cord injuries when her seatback collapsed rearward upon impact and the seat, seatbelt system, and other vehicle components failed to adequately restrain her. She asserted claims of strict products liability, negligence, and breach of warranty against Autoliv for designing, manufacturing, and selling an allegedly defective seatbelt system; against JCI for designing, manufacturing, and selling an allegedly defective seating system; and against Midstate for selling a vehicle that contained the allegedly defective seatbelt and seating systems, that " failed to incorporate other designs and technologies which could protect occupants from foreseeable crash forces in rear impact accidents," and that " lacked adequate and sufficient warnings and instructions about the risks ... presented by the Neon and reasonable means to reduce such risks." [2]

[¶4] In February 2012, plaintiff settled with Autoliv and stipulated to its dismissal with prejudice. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff filed a third amended complaint solely against Midstate and JCI.[3] The complaint again alleged strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty against JCI for designing, manufacturing, and supplying a defective seating system, and against Midstate for selling a vehicle that was not " crashworthy" because of a defective and inadequate seat system, a design that " failed to incorporate other designs and technologies which could protect occupants from foreseeable crash forces in rear impact accidents," and a " lack[] [of] adequate and sufficient warnings about the risks." In its answer to the third amended complaint, Midstate included a ...


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