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ARTICLE ID 28675

- PRODUCTS LIABILITY - KIA MOTORS CORPORATION SUED BY MOTORIST FOR ALLEGED DEFECTIVE DESIGN OF ________ KIA SEPHIA'S DRIVER'S SEAT - SEAT RECLINING OPTION POSES UNREASONABLE DANGER IN THE EVENT OF IMPACT - PLAINTIFF OPERATOR SUFFERS MULTIPLE, SEVERE INJURIES IN THREE VEHICLE ACCIDENT.

Maricopa County, Arizona

This action arose out of a three vehicle accident which occurred on a city street in Phoenix, Az. The male plaintiff, age 35 at the time of the subject accident, who was operating a ________ Kia Sephia, suffered severe and permanent injuries as an alleged result of the defective design of the seat reclining system in the Kia vehicle.

Suit was brought against Kia Motors Corporation, Kia Motors America, Inc. and Tempe Motors, Inc., asserting liability theories of strict products liability, negligence and failure to warn.

The subject accident occurred on December 1, ________, at approximately 11:15 p.m. As the plaintiff was preparing to turn left out of a business driveway on the north side of Indian School Road, two cars were drag racing westbound on Indian School Road. As a result of a collision between the two drag racers, one of them, who was driving a ________ Chevrolet Impala, lost control of his car and left the road on the north side.

The Impala continued traveling westbound off the road until it smashed into the plaintiff’s ________ Kia Sephia at a speed of 65-70 miles per hour. The collision caused the Sephia to spin ________ degrees and be propelled into a light pole. The rear door on the driver’s side of the Sephia smashed into the light pole. The plaintiff’s head impacted the light pole when the Sephia hit the pole.

The plaintiff sustained a closed head injury, a fractured left eye socket, a fractured skull, several fractured ribs on the right side and fractured spinal cord at C6. As a result of his injuries, the plaintiff is deaf in his left ear, suffers from double vision and decreased memory, as well as diminished cognitive functioning, including lost executive function and higher level reasoning.

The plaintiff alleged that the seat in the ________ Kia Sephia was defective and unreasonably dangerous because it reclined rearward in the collision and placed the plaintiff’s head in line with the light pole. Although the plaintiff did not assert liability claims against the two drag racers who caused the collision, the defendants named them as non-parties at fault. As a result, their fault was submitted to the jury to compare with any fault on the part of the product liability defendants.

During trial, the plaintiff called four liability experts to testify against the defendants on the design and accident reconstruction issues.

Specifically, the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction/engineering expert coordinated two crash tests prior to trial upon which he based much of his opinion testimony. The plaintiff also called a seat design expert who testified regarding the history of the car seat design and the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards pertaining to seat design. The plaintiff additionally presented an expert in biomechanical engineering regarding occupant kinematics and biomechanics and a second seat expert with ARCCA in Pennsylvania, who offered testimony regarding automobile seat design and seat strength.

The defendants called two liability experts, an accident reconstruction expert who performed a reconstruction of the accident and testified regarding seat design. Additionally the defendant presented a biomechanical expert to testify regarding occupant kinematics, biomechanics and injury causation.

Throughout the trial, the plaintiff maintained that although the drag racers may have triggered the accident sequence, they did not cause the plaintiff’s severe injuries. The plaintiff focused its case on rear end collisions and how the defendants and other car manufacturers knew that seat backs would often "collapse" in rear end collisions.

The plaintiff claimed that had the seat back in the plaintiff’s Kia Sephia been more rigid, the plaintiff would not have sustained the severe injuries suffered, if any at all.

The defendants responded by establishing that the plaintiff was out of position, leaning to the right, at the time of the collision. The defendants experts maintained that the forces of the collision moved the plaintiff to his left and rearward, causing the seat to yield rearward approximately 15 degrees and allowing the plaintiff’s head to strike the intruding utility pole. The defendants presented evidence to establish that the Kia seatback exceeded the federal standard for seatback strength by four times and that yielding seatbacks serve an important safety function by protecting the occupant as the structure deforms to absorb energy. The defendants maintained that had the plaintiff been in a rigid seat, he would have likely suffered a severe neck fracture, resulting in quadriplegia. Throughout the trial, the defendants maintained that the impact and the plaintiff’s injuries were caused solely by the drag racers.

In closing, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award $________ in special damages plus an unspecified amount for pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. The jury found for the defendants.

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