Nueces County motorcycle accident victim’s heirs lose summary judgment case

By Michelle de Leon | Sep 26, 2016

CORPUS CHRISTI – A defendant in a case involving a helmet worn in motorcycle accident in Nueces County was awarded a summary judgment to dismiss the suit against them.

In a motion filed on March 11 in the Corpus Christi Division of the Southern District of Texas, Van Leeuwen Enterprises Inc. sought summary judgment from the lawsuit brought to court by Diana Acosta, Edward Barrera and Charity Maples. The memorandum order on the issue was released on Sept. 7.

Van Leeuwen moved for its name to be removed from the list of defendants in the case filed by the plaintiffs. The company rejects the idea that they are classified as “manufacturers,” which means they should not be held liable for any defect or damage found in the disputed helmet in the case.

The case stemmed from the motorcycle accident in Nueces County which killed Brian Barrera. The plaintiffs alleged that the defects of the helmet, which held the brand Suomy Airtrix, “were a producing cause of [his] injuries and death. The plaintiffs brought the matter to the court in behalf of the minor heirs of the victim on Nov. 17, 2014.

Aside from Van Leeuwen, the other defendants named in the original case included LeMans Corp., Suomy America Inc, Suomy S.r.l., Suomy Moto Sport, S.r.l., Suomy S.p.A., Rohama Importers & Distributors Inc., MTA Distributing LLC, and KTM North America Inc.

Only Suomy S.p.A. and Van Leeuwen remained as defendants after the court granted the motions to dismiss filed by the other companies due to lack of personal jurisdiction.

However, the latest ruling also declared Van Leeuwen as not be liable for the deaths and injuries of the victim of the motorcycle accident.

The summary judgment sought by Van Leeuwen pointed out that the company could not be identified as a “manufacturer” since it is not involved in the production of the items. Citing Section 82.003(a) of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, the company noted that “a seller that did not manufacture a product is not liable for harm caused to the claimant by that product unless the claimant proves” one or more of seven listed exceptions.

According to Van Leeuwen, the helmet only carried the name Suomy. It further asserted that no part of the instruction manual or the product itself did its company’s name appear. Hence, Van Leeuwen did not take part in any step of the design and assembly of the helmet.

Van Leeuwen claimed that its role was limited only to the importing of the helmets. The records show that the company did not open the boxes that held the helmets or even modify the items upon receipt from Suomy. The evidence showed that Van Leeuwen’s part in the business was confined to processing the boxes and forwarding these to others. This limited role does not qualify them as manufacturers.

On the strength of Chapter 82 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, the court granted the motion for summary of Van Leeuwen. In the order, it was noted that the “[p]rimary liability is effectively placed on the manufacturer, as opposed to the innocent seller, since manufacturers are usually in a better position to recognize and remedy product defects.”

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