The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kessler, District Judge.
Plaintiff William E. Johnson, suing individually and as the
Personal Representative of the Estate of Goldie C. Johnson,
brings this survival action against Defendant Mercedes-Benz USA,
LLC, a Delaware corporation. Plaintiff alleges that a defective
airbag in an automobile distributed by Defendant Mercedes-Benz
USA, LLC ("Mercedes-Benz") caused the death of Goldie C.
Johnson, the wife of Plaintiff William E. Johnson. In response,
Mercedes-Benz has brought an action for contribution and
indemnification against Third-Party Defendant Katherine Elayne
Three Motions are pending before the Court: Short's Motion for
Summary Judgment ("Short MSJ") [# 63], Mercedes-Benz's First
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Def. MSJ I") [# 51], and
Mercedes-Benz's Second Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
("Def. MSJ II") [# 60]. Upon consideration of the Motions and
all related pleadings, Short's Motion for Summary Judgment is
denied in part and granted in part, Mercedes-Benz's First
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is denied, and
Mercedes-Benz's Second Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1
On November 10, 1997, at approximately 11:45 am, Goldie C.
Johnson, who was driving her family's 1989 Mercedes-Benz sedan,
stopped at a red light at the intersection of Sixteenth and
Aspen Streets NW, in the District of Columbia. See Pl. Compl.
¶ 10. After the sedan had stopped, a car driven by Katherine
Short collided from the rear, and caused the sedan to collide
with the vehicle in front of it. According to Plaintiff, the
sedan's occupant restraint system ("airbag") was activated
during the collisions, and caused "blunt force injury to the
chest" of Johnson. Id. ¶¶ 13-14, 16.
After being taken to a hospital, Mrs. Johnson was subsequently
pronounced dead at 5:36 pm, nearly six hours after the accident.
See id. ¶ 15. According to Plaintiff, the cause of death was
recorded as "exsanguination, transection of the aorta due to
blunt force injury to the chest." Id. ¶ 15.
On May 28, 1998, George Viedma, Short's representative,*fn2
proposed a settlement between Short and Johnson, whereby Short's
insurer would pay the Estate of Mrs. Johnson ("the Estate")
$20,000 (the insurance policy limit) in exchange for a general
release of liability. See Short MSJ, Exh. C (May 28, 1998
letter). On June 10, 1998, Viedma sent the Estate a letter with
a general release and a check for $20,000. See Short MSJ, at
14 & Exh. D (June 10, 1998 letter), Exh. E (general release);
Pl. Statement of Material Facts ¶ 6. The letter requested that
the Estate sign, notarize, and return the general release, and
that the Estate "hold payment in escrow pending completion and
return of release." Short MSJ, Exh. D (June 10, 1998
letter).*fn3 Thereafter, the Estate did not sign, notarize,
and return the general release, and did not cash the check for
It is Understood and Agreed that [Short], by making
payment to the Johnson estate and by agreeing to the
contents of this Release is not admitting
liability. . . . [Short] denies all liability and
intends merely to avoid Litigation.
It is further Understood and Agreed that this
Release does not and shall not bar any cause of
action, right, lien or claim arising from the said
event which any party to this release may now have or
may in the future have against any alleged
tortfeasor or any entity or person not specifically
named herein and released hereby.
On July 14, 1998, Plaintiff, as Personal Representative of the
Estate, signed and notarized the revised limited release and
subsequently mailed it to Viedma. See id.; Pl. Opp. to Short
MSJ, at 5. On that same date, the Estate's attorney deposited
the $20,000 check in his escrow account. See Pl. Opp. to Short
MSJ, Exh. 5 (Crestar Bank deposit slip for $20,000 dated July
14, 1998). On July 24, 1998, Viedma mailed a letter to the
Estate which read in pertinent part: "This letter is in respond
[sic] to your Settlement Agreement and Release of Claim
Agreement. Our Defense Counsel has reviewed your release and
insist [sic] on the language in the release. The current
Agreement is not acceptable at this time." Short MSJ, Exh. H
(July 24, 1998 letter) (emphasis added).
The Estate's attorney spoke with Viedma on July 25, 1998.
See Pl. Statement of Material Facts ¶ 10. The Estate's
attorney informed Viedma during this conversation that the
Estate had accepted and mailed the revised limited release. At
this juncture, Viedma instructed the Estate's attorney to
disregard his July 24, 1998 letter. See id.*fn5 On that
same day, July 25, 1998, the Estate's attorney paid Plaintiff
$14,000, which was Plaintiffs share of the $20,000 check. See
Pl. Opp. to Short MSJ, Exh. 8, at 1 (Crestar Bank check for
Short claims that Viedma subsequently mailed the Estate a
letter dated September 30, 1998.*fn6 See Short MSJ, at 7 &
Exh. I (Sept. 30, 1998 letter). In pertinent part, the letter
stated: "I would like you to be aware that by cashing the
settlement check you have accepted the settlement ...