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Ruling for car dealership upheld, but COA chides defense

June 18, 2019

Judgment will stand for an Indianapolis car dealership that serviced an airbag that later did not deploy in a crash that seriously injured a driver, but an appellate panel took a swipe at how the prevailing argument had been presented.

Joan Tutino took her 2004 Honda CR-V to the Bob Rohrman Honda dealership to have a defective Takata Airbag replaced. Honda recalled the airbags in 2014 as part of the largest defective airbag recall in history, and Tutino’s vehicle was serviced in January 2015.

Six months later, Tutino was involved in a four-car crash on State Road 37 on Indianapolis’ southwest side in which her driver’s side airbag failed to deploy. Tutino sued the dealership, alleging her vehicle was negligently serviced and that Rohrman failed to notify her that the replacement airbag likewise had been recalled. About two weeks after the crash, Tutino received another recall notification from Honda regarding the replacement airbag.

Marion Superior Judge John F. Hanley granted the dealership summary judgment, and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Tuesday in Joan Tutino v. Rohr-Indy Motors Inc d/b/a Bob Rohrman's Indy Honda and Bob Rohrman Honda Dealership, Service Department d/b/a Bob Rohrman Honda Service Department18A-CT-2435.

Rohrman argued it was not responsible for recall notices and that “the undisputed evidence shows that [Rohrman] properly performed all recall work . . . [and] the Honda CRV’s airbags did not deploy during the subject accident because the accident did not involve sufficient force to trigger airbag deployment.” Tutino’s car was struck from behind, and a defense expert witness said such a collision “would not result in a frontal airbag deployment in the CRV, regardless of severity.”

On the strength of this summary judgment evidence, the trial court ruled for Rohrman, and the COA agreed.

“As Rohrman demonstrated the absence of a genuine issue of fact as to a determinative issue and Tutino failed to come forward with contrary evidence showing an issue remained for trial, the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Rohrman,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the panel.

While affirming summary judgment for the defense, the panel also chided its characterization of Tutino’s appeal. Plaintiff’s counsel argued summary judgment for Rohrman should be reversed under the “low bar” summary judgment standard caselaw of Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000, 1003 (Ind. 2014).

The panel noted Rohrman’s argument in briefing and at oral argument was that Tutino’s lawsuit simply amounted to a statement of “‘Jury. Jury. Jury. Hughley. Hughley. Hughley.’”

“This response unnecessarily minimizes Tutino’s reliance on a legitimate part of Indiana’s summary judgment practice — emphasizing Indiana’s unique standard,” Robb wrote for the panel. “That we ultimately agree with Rohrman that Hughley does not preclude summary judgment in this case should not be taken to mean that we agree with Rohrman’s dismissive manner of making its argument.”

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