Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Racer’s Widow Can’t Drop Suit Against Porsche

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The wife of late race car driver Roger Rodas can't ditch her federal wrongful death lawsuit against Porsche because her lawyer didn't add claims and defendants before a court deadline, a federal judge ruled.

Kristin Rodas sued Porsche Cars North America in Los Angeles County Superior Court on May 12, 2014, after her husband and his friend - "The Fast and the Furious" actor Paul Walker - died in a fiery single-car crash.

She claims her husband was driving 55 mph when a suspension component on his 2005 Porsche Carrera GT failed, causing the car to hit a tree, then a light pole and another tree, before hitting a third tree which broke the car in half as it burst into flames.

Porsche removed the action to Federal Court based on diversity jurisdiction.

With help from Porsche engineers, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol concluded in a March 2014 report that the car, capable of 205 mph, was traveling at 94 mph upon impact and that mechanical failure did not cause the crash, according to Time magazine and other media reports.

Rodas disputes that finding.

In February 2015, after nine months of litigation, Rodas claimed the Porsche had four defects including a faulty right rear toe adjustor rod, no crash cage, substandard impact protection and lack of a fuel cell.

She sought damages in her first amended complaint and on June 26, 2015, the court entered a scheduling order setting July 22, 2015 as the deadline for Rodas to add claims or parties.

Meanwhile, a subsequent Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team report released by the California Highway Patrol revealed that the Porsche was first sold by Cranbrook Partner doing business as Beverly Hills Porsche on March 12, 2005. Porsche's initial disclosures also indicated that employees of Dr. Ing. H.c.F. Porsche Aktiengesellschaft (Porsche AG) "were likely to have discoverable information about the design, manufacture and testing of the vehicle."

Rodas' counsel, however, failed to add Cranbrook and Porsche AG to the complaint by the July 22, 2015 deadline, and he instead filed two state claims against them.

Rodas asked the court to either remand the action to state court so it can be tried with the two pending state court actions arising from the same incident, stay the case pending resolution of the two parallel cases or issue an order permitting her to dismiss the action without prejudice.

U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez denied the motion in its entirety, citing his belief that Rodas' lawyer is fishing for a more favorable venue in light of his failure to amend the complaint by the deadline.

"The court finds it persuasive that plaintiff's counsel appears to be forum shopping in order to rectify its own errors and avoid an adverse ruling by this court," he said in an 8-page ruling. "Plaintiff failed to add Cranbrook or Porsche AG as defendants before this court's deadline for adding parties had passed. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff's counsel filed a nearly identical action in state court on plaintiff's behalf, naming Cranbrook and Porsche AG as defendants. Plaintiff's counsel then filed the Rodas children's action naming as defendants Cranbrook, Porsche AG and Porsche Cars North America. Plaintiff's counsel appears to have initiated parallel state proceedings as a means of pursuing claims which it inadvertently forfeited in this action."

Plaintiff's counsel sought abstention in the federal action under the Colorado River doctrine to avoid duplicating lawsuits, but Gutierrez didn't buy it.

"The court is skeptical that plaintiff seeks abstention as a means of avoided duplicative efforts, rather than as a means of avoiding an adverse ruling which appeared probable once discovery had closed," he wrote. "Plaintiff's counsel should not be permitted to invoke the Colorado River doctrine as a means of fixing mistakes it made in this action or avoiding an adverse ruling which might have preclusive effect in the parallel state claims."

Gutierrez also shot down the plaintiff's argument for abstention under the Younger doctrine, which reflects the Supreme Court's "longstanding public policy against federal court interference with state court proceedings based on principles of federalism and comity."

"The court finds that there is not state-initiated proceedings which satisfies the Ninth Circuit's test for Younger abstention," he said.

Gutierrez also denied Rodas' motion for dismissal, citing the fact that the case is too far along to throw out now.

Porsche Cars North America argued that is has a right to "have this matter adjudicated on the record formed during discovery," that it would "lose that right if the court were to grant dismissal and that "if the court were to grant voluntary dismissal at this stage, defendant would lose its legal argument that it is entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's claims."

Gutierrez agreed.

"Dismissal in this case would leave defendant worse off, facing the same claims in state court without the gains it has achieved in litigating this action to this point," he said. "The court therefore finds that dismissal is improper, and plaintiff's request to dismiss the claim is denied."

Trial in Rodas' federal case is set to begin May 25.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.