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Griffin v. Kandi Techs. Corp.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

December 31, 2014

LENA GRIFFIN, and JANIE ELDER, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
KANDI TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION, ZHEJIANG KANDI VEHICLE CO., LTD., RHINO'S TRUCK ACCESSORIES, and RYAN BROOKS, Defendants-Respondents

Page 342

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF RIPLEY COUNTY. The Honorable Michael M. Pritchett, Circuit Judge.

FOR APPELLANTS: JAMES T. CORRIGAN, St. Louis, MO; DANIEL T. DEFEO, Lexington, MO.

FOR RESPONDENTS: DERRICK S. KIRBY, Doniphan, MO; JUSTIN A. HARDIN, St. Louis, MO.

MARY W. SHEFFIELD, P.J. -- OPINION AUTHOR. NANCY STEFFEN RAHMEYER, J. -- CONCURS, DON E. BURRELL, J. -- CONCURS.

OPINION

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MARY W. SHEFFIELD, P.J.

This appeal arises from a wrongful death law suit. Two men were killed in a go-kart incident, and their surviving family members sued the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of the go-kart, alleging various counts of strict liability and negligence. The manufacturers and distributors ultimately obtained a jury verdict in their favor. The families appeal, challenging two pre-trial rulings. The points on appeal are without merit, and the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

Factual and Procedural Background

On March 2, 2006, Lena Griffin (" Ms. Griffin" ) and Benjamin Wayne Griffin (" Mr. Griffin" ) purchased a go-kart. Their friend Jackie Honea (" Mr. Honea" ) was present at the time of the purchase. Later that afternoon, the gokart flipped over while Mr. Griffin was driving, and Mr. Honea was riding as a passenger. According to a highway patrol accident reconstruction report, the incident occurred when the go-kart vaulted off a hump in Mr. Griffin's driveway. When the vehicle landed, the front frame struck the ground first, and both occupants were ejected. The report further explained that at the time of the incident, the vehicle was traveling approximately 34 miles per hour over rough terrain, and neither of the men was wearing his safety belt. Both men received severe head injuries and died as a result of the crash. No one actually witnessed the crash.

Ms. Griffin, her children, and Mr. Honea's mother Janie Elder (" Ms. Elder" ) (collectively " Plaintiffs" ) subsequently filed a wrongful death suit. The named defendants included three separate groups involved in the manufacture and sale of the go-kart: (1) the companies responsible for the manufacture of the go-kart--Zhejiang Kandi Investments Group (" Kandi Investments" ); Kandi Technologies Corporation (" Kandi Technologies" ); and Zhejiang Kandi Vehicles Company, Ltd. (" Kandi Vehicles" )--(2) the companies responsible for importing the go-kart--SunL Group, Inc. (" SunL" ) and Ham Trading, Inc. (" Ham" )--and (3) the people and organizations who participated in the ultimate sale of the go-kart to the Griffins--Rhino's Truck Accessories (" Rhino's" ); the sole proprietor of Rhino's, Ryan Brooks (" Mr. Brooks" ); Supertints Window Tinting (" Supertints" ); and the owner of Supertints, Michael Keith Hampton (" Mr. Hampton" ). Plaintiffs raised claims of strict liability and negligence against Kandi Investments, Kandi Technologies, Kandi Vehicles, Ham, and SunL. They also alleged Rhino's, Mr. Brooks, Supertints, and Mr. Hampton were negligent for failing to

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inspect the go-kart and for failing to warn of the go-kart's alleged defects.

Rhino's and Mr. Brooks subsequently sought summary judgment based on the argument that they did not know or have reason to know of the go-kart's alleged defects. The trial court granted Rhino's and Mr. Brooks's motion for summary judgment.

The case then went to trial against the remaining defendants. The jury found against the Plaintiffs and in favor of the defendants, and the trial court entered judgment accordingly. Plaintiffs appeal, challenging the trial court's ruling on Rhino's and Mr. Brooks's motion for summary judgment and the trial court's ruling on a motion to set aside a default judgment entered prior to trial.

Point I, Point II, and Point III

In their first point and their second point, Plaintiffs argue the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because Rhino's and Mr. Brooks failed to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. In their third point, Plaintiffs argue the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because Rhino's and Mr. Brooks failed to prove they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law as there were facts in dispute regarding whether Rhino's and Mr. Brooks (1) sold the go-kart and (2) knew or should have known about the alleged defects of the go-kart. We address these points together.

Appellate review of the trial court's decision regarding a motion for summary judgment is de novo. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). " Facts set forth by affidavit or otherwise in support of a party's motion are taken as true unless contradicted by the non-moving party's response to the summary judgment motion." Id. Furthermore, the reviewing court " will review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered." Id.

" Missouri's Rule 74.04 sets out a procedure for granting summary judgments in cases in which the movant can establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. at 377. Under that rule:

a 'defending party' may establish a right to judgment by showing (1) facts that negate any one of the claimant's elements facts, (2) that the non-movant, after an adequate period of discovery, has not been able to produce, and will not be able to produce, evidence sufficient to allow the trier of fact to find the existence of any one of the claimant's elements, or (3) that there is no genuine dispute as to ...

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