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Martinez v. Ford Motor Co.

May 27, 2010


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Anthony J. Mohr, Judge. Reversed and remanded. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. Nos. JCCP-4292 / GIC873813)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rubin, J.


Two survivors and the heirs and estates of two decedents from a single car crash in Mexico of a Ford Explorer that had been purchased in San Diego County appeal from the judgment dismissing their complaint for forum non conveniens. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.


Appellant Jose Mazon Martinez was driving a Ford Explorer in which appellant Jesus Manuel Ibarra Campos and decedent Andres Esparza Hernandez and his wife, decedent Georgina Isabel Ibarra Campos de Esparza, were passengers. In their complaint below, appellants alleged:

"On or about February 9, 2006, at approximately 3:00 P.M., the decedents and the plaintiffs, JOSE MAZON MARTINEZ and JESUS MANUEL IBARRA CAMPOS were traveling in the SUBJECT VEHICLE, in Mexico, towards Churintizio, Michoacan, on the Mexico City-Nogales Highway, in the State of Michoacan."

Their complaint further alleged that the tread on the Explorer's defectively designed and manufactured right rear tire separated from the wheel, causing driver Martinez to lose control of the Explorer.*fn1 According to the complaint, defects in the Explorer caused it to careen off the road and roll over, severely injuring driver Martinez and passenger Jesus Manuel Ibarra Campos and killing husband and wife Andres Esparza Hernandez and Georgina Isabel Ibarra Campos de Esparza.

Survivors Martinez and Campos and the parents of the dead passengers, appellants Regino Ibarra Morin and Guadalupe Campos de Morin for Georgina Isabel Ibarra Campos de Esparza, and appellants Andres Esparza Silva and Carlota Hernandez de Esperza for Andres Esparza Hernandez, filed a complaint in October 2006 in San Diego Superior Court. They alleged causes of action for strict and negligent product liability, negligent maintenance and repair, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. They named as defendants the Explorer's manufacturer, respondent Ford Motor Company; the manufacturer of the right rear tire, respondent Cooper Tire and Rubber Company; the San Diego auto dealership from which the Explorer was purchased, Leader Auto Sales; and, the San Diego tire company that sold the defective tire, Power Tires.*fn2 Appellants attached as exhibits to their complaint certified Spanish-to-English translations of official death certificates issued by Mexican authorities for decedents Georgina Isabel Ibarra Campos and Andres Esparza Hernandez. The death certificates identified decedents' "nationality" as "Mexican" and stated they died in Vista Hermosa in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Additionally, the certificates identified as "Mexican" the "nationality" of decedents' parents, who were suing for themselves and for the estates of their dead children: appellant Regino Ibarra Morin and appellant Guadalupe Campos de Ibarra, respectively father and mother to Georgina Isabel Ibarra Campos, and appellant Andres Esparza Silva and Carlota Hernandez Morales, respectively father and mother to Andres Esparza Hernandez.

In January 2007, respondents Ford and Cooper Tire filed their answers to appellants' complaint. At the time respondents filed their answers, which did not allege forum non conveniens, both respondents were defendants in Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding No. 4292 in Los Angeles Superior Court known as the "Winston Tire Cases." The coordinated proceeding was instituted in 2003 in the wake of numerous lawsuits throughout California that alleged Copper Tire had negligently designed and manufactured vehicle tires. In ordering coordination, the Los Angeles Superior Court had found:

"[E]ach [tire defect] case centers on liability theories of design as well as manufacturing defect, the common glue being that all injuries were allegedly caused by defective tire treads separating from tires made by Cooper. At least three issues predominate: (1) whether the tires were defectively designed; (2) whether the tires were defectively manufactured; and (3) whether, in part, injury resulted therefrom."

The same day Cooper Tire served its answer to appellants' complaint, Cooper Tire petitioned to transfer appellants' complaint from San Diego Superior Court to Los Angeles to be included in the Winston Tire coordinated proceeding.*fn3 Ford did not object to the transfer. Two weeks later, the coordination trial court in Los Angeles granted the petition and in February 2007 San Diego Superior Court transferred the case to Los Angeles.

Respondents thereafter pursued discovery against appellants. In May 2007, Ford individually served on each appellant requests for production, form interrogatories, and special interrogatories, which appellants answered in August 2007. The discovery Ford propounded on appellant Guadalupe Campos de Morin, the mother of decedent Georgina Isabel Ibarra Campos, is representative of the discovery that Ford sought from all six appellants.

Ford served on Guadalupe Campos de Morin 39 requests for inspection and production of documents in her possession. The subject matter of the documents Ford sought included: the Explorer's purchase; all communications by anyone regarding the accident; documents from Ford about the Explorer; depictions of the Explorer's condition at any time before or after the accident; defects and repairs to the Explorer; depictions of any "scene, place or object relevant to or connected" to the accident; documents "filed with or created by governmental agencies or insurance companies" that related to the accident; post-accident tests and inspections of the Explorer; other accidents in which the Explorer was involved; Morin's settlement demands; payments by insurers; medical history and treatment of Morin's deceased daughter since 1996; medical records of Morin's daughter's injuries from the accident; her daughter's employment history and earnings since 1996; lawsuits and other legal actions since 1996 involving Morin or her daughter; civil or criminal complaints against them; and all other documents relating to the liability of Ford, Cooper Tire, Leader Auto Sales, and Power Tires.

Ford also served individually on Morin and each of the other appellants 59 form interrogatories. Those interrogatories, each of which had subparts, sought information about each appellant's insurance; physical, mental, and emotional injuries; medical history; property damage; loss of income or earning capacity; and other damages.

Finally, Ford served almost six dozen special interrogatories on each appellant. Again, the 71 special interrogatories Ford propounded on Guadalupe Campos de Morin were largely representative of those served on all six appellants, except the interrogatories to surviving appellants (driver Jose Mazon Martinez and passenger Jesus Manuel Ibarra Campos) did not seek information about decedents. Three of the special interrogatories asked about Morin's citizenship, place of domicile, and addresses for the previous five years. More than two dozen special interrogatories sought information about the Explorer at issue, such as its purchase, use, service, repair, and alleged defects. More than a dozen special interrogatories sought information about past and future financial responsibilities and means of support for Morin and her daughter before her daughter's death. Five special interrogatories sought information about the general health, physical condition, and disabilities of Morin's daughter. Eight special interrogatories sought information about Morin's theories of liability for Ford, Cooper, Power Tires, and Leader Auto Sales. And finally, 11 special interrogatories sought miscellaneous information, such as proof Morin's daughter was wearing a seat belt when the accident occurred, and documentation of medical bills and burial expenses paid by Morin for her daughter.

Cooper Tire served discovery on appellants in April 2007, which appellants answered in July 2007. Cooper Tire served on each appellant a 28-page "plaintiff fact sheet" specially prepared for the coordinated Winston Tire proceeding. The fact sheet asked questions about the following:

● Whether the appellant had served in the American military or been rejected for military service for health reasons.

● Workers' compensation claims, Social Security disability claims, or lawsuits filed in the previous ten years that alleged bodily injury.

● Felony convictions.

‚óŹ Personal information about any spouse ...

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