United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
CHRIS HANNIBAL and LEANNA HANNIBAL, Individually and as Co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of Krista Sue Hannibal, Deceased PLAINTIFFS
TRW VEHICLE SAFETY SYSTEMS, INC. DEFENDANT
OPINION AND ORDER
LEON HOLMES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Hannibal was killed when her 1997 Ford Explorer, which she
was driving, left the road and rolled over in a deep ditch
shortly after 5:00 p.m., on November 26, 2007. The Explorer
came to rest upside down at an angle tilted toward the
driver's side. Krista was partially ejected through the
window on the driver-side door and her head was pinned
between the top of the door frame and a rock on the ground.
Her parents brought this action against TRW Vehicle Safety
Systems, Inc., which manufactured components of the seatbelt
system, contending that the seatbelt system was defective and
unreasonably dangerous. Their theory was that, due to a
design defect, during a rollover the locking mechanism would
permit enough of the webbing to unspool to allow Krista's
head to get outside the window. The case was submitted on
interrogatories with the first interrogatory asking whether
Krista was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident.
The jury answered that interrogatory “No.”
plaintiffs have now filed a motion for new trial, contending
that the Court erred in allowing the investigating officer,
Derek McGuire, to testify that it did not appear that Krista
was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident. They
also assert that the Court erred in allowing Charles
Davidson, a fireman and emergency medical technician, to
testify on that issue.
eyewitnesses testified at trial on the issue of whether
Krista was wearing her seatbelt. All of them were permitted
to testify as to what they saw and what conclusions they drew
based upon what they saw.
first witness was Josh Ramsey. Ramsey was working on a water
line near the scene of the accident when it occurred. He and
his co-worker, Terry White, ran to the scene immediately
after the accident occurred. Ramsey looked through the
passenger-side rear door. He testified as follows:
Q Okay. When you got that passenger door open or were looking
through that passenger side, could you see Krista in the
vehicle at that point?
A Yes, from the side.
Q Okay. Can you explain how you saw her positioned in the
A The vehicle was - the vehicle was upside down. I believe I
was looking in from the back passenger door and I could see
the side of the - the side of the seat and the side of her -
and her hair, and she was upside down in the driver's
Q Okay. Did you see her face?
A I could only see hair and like shoulder down to the seat.
Like I said, she was - she was just hanging upside down in
the driver's seat.
Q Was she behind the steering wheel?
A That is correct.
Q Do you remember which way she was orientated in that seat?
A What do you mean by that?
Q When you describe her as behind the steering wheel, would
that be in the same manner that someone would be behind the
steering wheel of a vehicle that was not flipped upside down?
Q Do you know any other way that she could have been hanging
upside down other than wearing a seat belt?
A I really don't know what to say here because I
don't want to speculate anything. I don't see any
other way for her to have been in that position if she
didn't have one on, if I can say that.
Q Did you make any effort to look for a seat belt when you
were looking into that vehicle?
A No, I did not.
60, line 3 through page 61, lines 1, 20-23, and page 62,
lines 2-4. Document #123 at 60-62.
Q Mr. Ramsey, you don't recall seeing the seat belt,
Q You didn't see the belt on her, true?
Q You personally did not touch a seat belt, correct?
A No. I didn't touch anything inside the vehicle.
Q And you didn't see anybody else take the seat belt off
A Correct. Once emergency personnel started doing their job,
I didn't want to interfere and backed away.
79, lines 2-11. Document #123 at 79.
Q You could not confirm or deny that the seat belt was on or
A Correct. Page 86, lines 14-16. Document #123 at 86.
White entered the vehicle through the hatch. He crawled and
placed his head between the driver-side seat and the
passenger-side seat, expecting to find that the occupant was
alive. When Krista did not respond, he backed out and waited
for the emergency professionals to arrive. White testified:
Q Did you see anything that would have kept her in that
Q Do you have any explanation of how she would have still
been in that position in the seat?
A I don't. I mean, I didn't - she was just in there.
Q You weren't looking for a seat belt?
A No, I wasn't.
line 21 through page 8, line 3. Document #121 at 7-8.
Q Next you don't remember seeing a seat belt at all,
Q You did not - certainly did not unfasten or unbuckle a seat
A No, because, when I didn't get any response, I was
thinking neck injury. I don't -
Q You knew better than to touch -
Q - somebody who was injured?
Q So true statement, did not unfasten or unbuckle the belt?