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ARTICLE ID 28411

- PRODUCTS LIABILITY - GENERAL MOTORS AND DEALERSHIP EXONERATED IN ACTION INVOLVING ________ CHEVROLET CORSICA - J-HOOK OF SEATBELT SYSTEM ALLEGEDLY DEFECTIVE IN DESIGN - J-HOOK ALLEGEDLY ROTATES OUT OF POSITION UPON IMPACT, PERMITTING SHOULDER BELT TO SEPARATE FROM LATCH PLATE - CLOSED HEAD INJURIES SUFFERED BY PLAINTIFF.

Wayne County, Michigan

This products liability action arose out of a rear end collision which occurred when the 37-year-old female plaintiff motorist, operating her ________ Chevrolet Corsica, struck the rear of a ________ Nissan Sentra.

The plaintiff contended that the J-hook which was part of the seat belt restraining system was defectively designed, causing it to rotate out of position during the accident and allowing impact forces to cause the plastic retaining block to break. This permitted the shoulder belt to unlatch, according the plaintiff’s claims, thereby causing her to suffer head trauma resulting in a closed head injury.

The two vehicle accident occurred when the plaintiff’s Corsica struck the rear of a ________ Nissan Sentra on southbound Telegraph Road. The plaintiff alleged that her seat belt broke, allowing her head to be thrust forward and strike the steering wheel or the windshield.

The evidence established that the shoulder belt in the ________ Corsica was attached to the latch plate by a j-hook and a plastic retaining block. The plaintiff did not contend that the lap belt failed, but rather, that the j-hook rotated out of position, allowing accident forces to be imparted on the plastic retaining block, causing it to break. The plaintiff alleged that this was a defect which allowed the shoulder belt to separate from the latch plate. The plaintiff alleged that as the shoulder belt gave way, the plaintiff was permitted to strike her head on the windshield or the steering wheel.

The plaintiff’s experts relied on the fact that the retaining block was separated from the latch plate to support their position that the j-hook rotated out of position. The defendants countered that the seat belt could not have failed in the manner alleged by the plaintiff and maintained that the plaintiff was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident.

The defendants presented a biomechanics expert who opined that the j-hook could not rotate out of position in the manner alleged by the plaintiff and that the plastic retaining block did not experience any forces acting upon it during the accident. The defendant asserted that even if the j-hook were rotated slightly, it would have automatically pulled back into proper position as soon as the plaintiff loaded the belt, thus precluding it from disengaging the latch plate. The defense expert explained that the marks on the j-hook stemmed from on-going wear and tear and could not have been caused by a one-time event wherein the j-hook rotated out of position. While there was testimony that the j- hook was found separated immediately following the accident, the defendants argued that this must have occurred due to a pre- accident modification.

The plaintiff offered expert testimony from a board certified neurologist, psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist to explain the closed head-injury sustained by the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s expert neurologist, testifying by videotape, explained the plaintiff’s symptoms, which included headaches, occasional blackouts, as well as cognitive and memory difficulties.

The plaintiff, who is the mother of three children, testified that she is unable to drive as a result of the ongoing symptoms stemming from the subject head trauma.

The plaintiff’s expert neuropsychologist evaluated the plaintiff by administering a battery of neuropsychological tests which were interpreted by this expert as positive for traumatic brain injury. The defendant also had the plaintiff examined by an independent expert neuropsychologist.

This expert contended that his testing was not indicative of closed head injury as claimed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleged that she was totally disabled from gainful employment as a result of the injury sustained.

Following a month-long trial, the jury deliberated for less that one hour and one-half prior to finding in favor of the defendants.

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