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Christensen v. Alaska Sales & Service, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alaska

October 10, 2014

RAMONA CHRISTENSEN and JACK SCOTT, Appellants,
v.
ALASKA SALES & SERVICE, INC., Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, William F. Morse, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-10-07948 CI.

A. Lee Petersen, Petersen Professional Corp., Willow, for Appellants.

Terrance A. Turner and Natalie A. Cale, Turner & Mede, P.C., Anchorage, and Edward A. Gray and Heather Russell Fine, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

Page 515

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Four years after a couple purchased a new car, it collided with two moose on the Parks Highway. The couple s ued the car dealership for product liability, alleging that the car's seat belt failed to restrain the driver in the accident. The superior court granted summary judgment to the dealership, concluding that " no reasonable jury could find that the Plaintiffs have proven that the seat belt . . . was defective." The couple appeals, arguing that the superior court applied an incorrect summary judgment standard and that genuine issues of material fact made summary judgment inappropriate. Because we conclude that the couple has raised genuine issues of material fact regarding a seat belt defect and causation of the driver's injury, we reverse the superior court's grant of summary judgment.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

In spring 2004 Ramona Christensen and Jack Scott purchased a new 2004 Buick from Alaska Sales & Service, Inc. In June 2008 Christensen was driving the Buick on the Parks Highway when she collided with two moose. Other than Christensen, there were no witnesses to the accident. Photographs taken after the accident show damage to the Buick's front driver's side.

After the collision Christensen called the police to report the accident and called Scott to come pick her up at the scene. When

Page 516

Scott arrived Christensen said she felt nauseated, and Scott noticed a red mark on her forehead. Christensen could not remember many details of the collision, including whether she hit her head on something inside the car.

During the days following the accident, Christensen reported feeling light-headed and dizzy. Christensen's speech became disfluent and broken, and her gait became unsteady, causing her to fall repeatedly. About one week after the accident, Christensen sought medical attention to address her worsening symptoms. A neurologist examined Christensen and ordered an MRI spectroscopy. The spectroscopy showed evidence of bilateral frontal lobe brain damage. Since 2008 numerous other physicians and psychiatrists have examined and treated Christensen for her continuing speech, short-term memory, and mobility problems.

Shortly after the accident Scott took the Buick to a repair shop. Scott suspected that Christensen's seat belt failed to work properly during the crash. Prior to the accident Scott had noticed that the seat belts in the Buick seemed different than what he was accustomed to -- the Buick's seat belts sometimes had not retracted on their own or locked when suddenly pulled forward. When Scott asked the repair shop to repair the driver's seat belt, the repair shop responded that both the driver's and passenger's seat belts were not working properly. The repair shop contacted Alaska Sales & Service, but it refused to pay for seat belt replacements. Scott's insurance company agreed to pay for the replacements, and the repair shop replaced both seat belts. The original seat belts were not returned to Scott.

B. Proceedings

In 2010 Christensen and Scott filed suit against Alaska Sales & Service, claiming that the Buick's seat belt failed to work properly during the crash. After receiving answers to interrogatories, taking depositions of Christensen and Scott, and obtaining an expert affidavit, Alaska Sales & Service filed a motion for summary judgment. Alaska Sales & Service argued that Christensen and Scott had not presented enough evidence that the Buick's seat belt was defective or that a seat belt failure caused Christensen's injuries. The superior court granted summary judgment to Alaska Sales & Service. Christensen and Scott filed a motion to reconsider; the superior court denied reconsideration and set out its reasons for granting summary judgment to Alaska Sales & Service. The court described the evidence ...


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