LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan Court of Appeals has blocked a move that would make it easier to get pretrial testimony from employees of auto company subsidiaries and joint ventures based outside the United States.
Ruling in a product liability suit, the court said plaintiffs must go through a foreign country's formal judicial proceedings to depose such witnesses if the company is not a defendant.
The court rejected a plaintiff's attempt to simply notify employees of General Motors' Adam Opel AG subsidiary in Eisenach, Germany, and the General Motors Holden's Automotive Ltd. subsidiary in Melbourne, Australia, to appear in Michigan for depositions.
The suit stemmed from a 1992 accident in which a child riding in the rear seat of a 1980 Buick Skylark was injured while wearing a two-point restraint system. The child's mother, Patricia Laderach, contended GM breached its duty to install a safe and effective rear-seat-belt restraint system.
GM denied any defect, said Patrick Seyferth, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., lawyer for GM.
The case was settled for an undisclosed amount while the appeal was pending, according to Jeffrey Meyers, a Detroit attorney for the plaintiffs.
To bolster her position, Laderach sent deposition notices for GM Holden's and Opel to provide employees to testify how GM designed and installed three-point seat-belt restraint systems as standard equipment in their vehicles in the 1970s, before her Skylark was manufactured.
Under Michigan rules, a party to a lawsuit can depose an adversary's employees by simply sending a notice without a subpoena. Neither Opel nor Holden's were named as defendants in Laderach's suit, and Laderach tried to follow that same procedure to depose their employees.
GM appealed an order by the Macomb County Circuit Court that required the employees to give depositions in Michigan at Laderach's expense.
Siding with GM, the appeals court overturned the order and ruled that GM does not control employees of either foreign company.
The court did note that Laderach is free to take depositions from GM employees with the most knowledge concerning Opel's and Holden's decision to incorporate three-point lap shoulder belt restraints for rear-seat occupants. GM did not challenge that right, attorney Seyferth said.
He said the decision means plaintiffs must follow the judicial procedures of foreign countries to obtain testimony from employees of foreign subsidiaries and joint ventures.
'The plaintiff,' he said, 'wanted to avoid the difficult subpoena requirements for foreign countries.