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AVCO Corp. v. Crews

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

February 12, 2015


For Avco Corporation, Plaintiff: Melissa O'Loughlin White, William Harrison Walsh, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Terri A Thomas, COZEN O'CONNOR (SEA), SEATTLE, WA.

For Paul Thomas Crews, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Brenda Houston, Defendant: Andrew Thomas Biggs, LEAD ATTORNEY, Mark S. Northcraft, NORTHCRAFT BIGBY & BIGGS PC, SEATTLE, WA.

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Robert S. Lasnik, United States District Judge.

This mater comes before the Court on " Plaintiff's Motion to Stay," Dkt. # 8, and " Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment," Dkt. # 17. Having reviewed the memoranda and exhibits submitted by the parties, the Court finds as follows.


This case stems from litigation in Washington state court surrounding a small-aircraft crash that occurred in July 2008 that took the lives of the pilot, Brenda Houston (" Houston" ); her daughter, Elizabeth Crews; and a family friend, Dr. Virgil Victor Becker, Jr. Dkt. # 8 at 2. Two cases were filed in state court following the accident: Defendant Paul Thomas Crews, as personal representative of Houston's estate, filed suit against AVCO Corp. (" AVCO" ) and other manufacturers; and Becker's estate (" Becker" ) filed suit against AVCO, other manufacturers, and Houston's estate. Dkt. # 17 at 1-2. The two cases were consolidated for discovery and trial. Id. at 2.

The trial court imposed severe sanctions against AVCO for discovery violations, including a jury instruction that AVCO was liable to both plaintiffs for damages. Dkt. # 11-1 (" Order Granting Discovery Sanctions" ) at 12-14. The trial court further ordered that it would not instruct the jury " on any comparative fault of the aircraft's pilot" or " that they [were] to determine whether any other parties [were] 'at fault,'" id., essentially instructing the jury that Houston was free from fault. Holding that it would " establish liability and causation in favor of the plaintiffs," id. at 12, the court stated that it would limit the jury in AVCO's trial to determining the

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amount of compensatory and punitive damages owed, id. at 13.

Plaintiffs proceeded to trial against AVCO. The jury awarded Becker $8.9 million and Crews $11.3 million in compensatory damages. Dkt. # 11-2 (" Special Verdict Form I" ). After this verdict was rendered, but before the punitive damages phase began, AVCO settled with Becker for an undisclosed amount. Dkt. # 17 at 3. Crews proceeded to trial on punitive damages and was awarded $6 million. Dkt. # 11-3 (" Special Verdict Form II" ). The cases were severed after trial, and AVCO appealed the judgment entered in favor of Crews. Dkt. # 17 at 3. AVCO's appeal, which is still ongoing, challenges the sanctions order and requests remand for a new trial in which evidence would be presented establishing Houston's fault for the July 2008 airplane crash. Dkt. # 1 at 4. Becker separately settled its claims against Crews for $50,000. Dkt. # 11-4 (" Settlement and Release" ).

According to AVCO, its settlement with Becker " released all claims" arising out of Virgil Becker's death, but " did not limit any rights of or against any other individual or entity." Dkt. # 1 ¶ 4.10. This Court has not been presented with the settlement agreement.

AVCO brought this action against Crews in May 2014 seeking contribution for its settlement with Becker, claiming that it paid more than its equitable share. Id. ¶ 5.2. AVCO alternatively seeks a declaration that the one-year time period for asserting a contribution claim under RCW 4.22, et seq. does not begin to run until Houston's estate (hereinafter referred to as " Crews" for the sake of simplicity) is found liable for damages arising out of the July 2008 airplane crash, which according to AVCO will occur at the earliest " after trial on remand after the conclusion of the AVCO Corp. v. Crews appeal." Id. ¶ 6.3. In October 2014, AVCO moved to stay all proceedings in this action until the conclusion of the state court case, on the grounds that the action for contribution may only proceed if AVCO is successful in the appeal and " any proceedings thereafter" . Dkt. # 8 at 1. Defendant moved for summary judgment in November 2014. Dkt. # 17.

AVCO's theory appears to be that, if it succeeds in its appeal, there will eventually be a new trial in which Houston (Crews) will be found at fault, thereby allowing AVCO to recover contribution from Crews for AVCO's settlement with Becker. Emphasizing that it only filed this contribution action in order to meet the deadline for bringing such actions set by state law, AVCO argues that the Court should stay proceedings until state court proceedings determine whether AVCO's claims have merit. Dkt. # 8 (citing RCW 4.22.050).[1] AVCO likewise requests that the Court deny defendant's motion for summary judgment because the Court ...

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