Watch out for the moose

Christensen v. Alaska Sales & Serv., Inc., No. S-14963 (Alaska Oct. 10, 2014).

Ramona Christensen bought a Buick from Alaska Sales & Service. Four years later, she was driving her Buick on the Parks Highway, which runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks, when she collided with two moose. (Alaskan moose typically weigh more than a thousand pounds, so that’s a serious collision.) In the days following the accident, she experienced neurological symptoms, and an MRI indicated brain damage. When the Buick was taken to the repair shop, the shop said the seat belts weren’t working properly, so Christensen sued Alaska Sales & Service for selling her a defective car. 

The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant, but the Alaska Supreme Court says it shouldn’t have. The court first reviews Alaska’s summary judgment standard, which is more lenient than the federal one, and then it reviews the record. Remember that the repair shop said the seat belts weren’t working properly after the accident. The court observes that there’s plenty of evidence that this defect had been around from the beginning. There’s evidence of an “unbroken chain of custody” of the Buick from Alaska Sales & Service to Christensen, and evidence, too, that the seat belts hadn’t been altered since the sale. There’s also good reason to think that the defect caused Christensen’s injury. Christensen testified that she was wearing her seat belt at the time of the accident, as she always does. Plus, a witness at the scene of the accident noticed that she had a mark on her forehead—which is evidence that the seatbelts hadn’t kept her from hitting her head. If that weren’t enough, Christensen’s neurologist opined that her brain damage had been caused by the accident. So the case has to go to a jury. 

This seems like an easy case under any summary judgment standard, state or federal. Why the trial court dismissed it before trial is rather puzzling.