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ARTICLE ID 29047

- AUTOMOTIVE PRODUCTS LIABILITY - ________ HONDA CIVIC COUPE ALLEGEDLY UNCRASHWORTHY IN SIDE-IMPACT COLLISIONS - WRONGFUL DEATH OF HUSBAND/FATHER IN HIGH-IMPACT INTERSECTION ACCIDENT.

Maricopa County Superior Court, Phoenix, Arizona

The plaintiffs filed this wrongful death action against the defendant Honda Motor Corporation, contending that its ________ Honda Civic Coupe was uncrashworthy in side impact collisions. The plaintiffs claimed that the Civic’s door beam was too high and too weak to prevent occupant compartment intrusion in a side- impact accident. The subject accident resulted in the death of the 39-year-old male pulmonologist, a husband and father of one minor child.

This trial arose out of a June 3, ________, intersection accident in Scottsdale, Arizona. The decedent, Ronald Greenwood, the driver of a ________ Honda Civic Coupe, was traveling westbound through the intersection of Sweetwater Boulevard and Scottsdale Road when the driver of a southbound ________ Lexus ________-ES ran a red light and struck the Honda in the driver’s side front fender and door. The Scottsdale Police Department calculated an impact speed of 46 mph by the Lexus and 22 mph by the Honda. The impact sent both vehicles spinning through the intersection and into a stationary delivery van.

Thirty-nine-year-old Ronald Greenwood was fatally injured in the collision. Dr. Greenwood had suffered fractures to his left tibia, fibula, and femur, as well as his pelvis. He also sustained a severely torn aorta and died in surgery later that day. Dr. Greenwood, a pulmonologist, was survived by his wife, Elke Greenwood, and a son Ronald Greenwood, Jr., born five months p 7 3 after the accident. The plaintiffs’ damages included medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost future income and services, loss of love and affection, and past and future mental suffering. The plaintiffs’ economist estimated the present value of plaintiffs’ economic loss at approximately $10 million.

On the issue of the ________ Honda Civic Coupe’s uncrashworthiness in side-impact collisions, the plaintiffs claimed that the Civic’s door beam was too high and too weak to prevent occupant compartment intrusion by the impacting Lexus. Furthermore, the plaintiffs alleged that the Civic needed two door beams and various body reinforcements to provide greater rigidity in side- impact collisions. The court permitted the plaintiffs to introduce evidence that some later model automobiles have two beams in each door and other structures to enhance side-impact performance.

Much of the plaintiffs’ case focused on a recent amendment to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, imposing dynamic crash test performance requirements. Under the FMVSS ________ dynamic test standard, a ________-pound moving, deformable barrier is crashed into a test vehicle at a ________ degree angle to simulate a 30 mph vehicle striking a 15 mph vehicle in an intersection accident.

The ________ model year was the first of a four-year, phase-in period for this new federal safety standard. For model year ________, manufacturers were required to conform 10% of their fleets to the new standard. The ________ Civic Coupe was part of the fifth generation Honda Civic line developed between ________ and ________, and therefore, it was not subject to the new standard.

The defendant Honda contended that the ________ Honda Civic was a safe and defect-free vehicle with state-of-the-art side-impact crashworthiness. Honda maintained that the subject accident was extremely severe and that none of the alternative designs promoted by plaintiffs’ experts would have prevented Dr.

Greenwood’s fatal injuries. Furthermore, Honda introduced statistical accident data to demonstrate that the ________ Civic provided excellent real world, side-impact protection when compared to other vehicles including later model Honda Civics along with various newer and larger vehicles singled out by the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses.

The plaintiffs’ expert witnesses included a civil engineer, who performed a reconstruction of the accident based upon his analysis of all the available evidence and testimony. A second civil engineer testified regarding the design of the ________ Honda Civic Coupe and various alternative designs. The plaintiff’s expert automotive design engineer offered testimony regarding the design of the ________ Honda Civic Coupe. This expert offered several alternative designs, which he maintained would have significantly improved the crashworthiness of the vehicle.

The plaintiff additionally called an expert mechanical engineer who testified about vehicle design of the subject Honda Civic and the comparable performance of other vehicles in NHTSA dynamic side-impact tests. The plaintiff retained a biomechanical engineering expert who testified about a crash test performed by one of the defendants’ experts.

The plaintiff’s expert pathologist testified about the cause of decedent’s death and maintained that the crushing of the car in p 7 3 the side-impact accident caused the fatal injuries sustained in the subject accident. Finally, the plaintiff’s expert economist testified about the present value of decedent’s economic damages.

The defendant Honda called three expert witnesses. The defendant’s engineering experts defended the design of the ________ Honda Civic Coupe and presented a full-scale crash test of a later model competitor vehicle identified by the plaintiffs’ experts as a better alternative design. The defendant’s biomechanical engineering expert testified about the nature and mechanism of the decedent’s injuries, about statistical risk analysis, and presented evidence of the real world, side-impact accident performance of the ________ Honda Civic Coupe compared to peer vehicles, including later model Civics, and the vehicles selected by plaintiffs’ experts as alternative designs.

The plaintiffs’ case relied heavily on various NHTSA tests performed on the Honda Civic as well as other manufacturers’ earlier and later model year vehicles. Honda responded with evidence that the Civic performed very well in NHTSA’s testing even though the FMVSS ________ dynamic side-impact test standard did not apply to the ________ model year Civic. Further, Honda demonstrated that the subject accident was much more severe than an FMVSS ________ side-impact test in part because of the high speed of the impacting Lexus and the mismatch of the vehicle weights with the Lexus weighing approximately ________ pounds more than the Civic.

Plaintiffs’ counsel did not suggest a specific amount of damages to the jury in his closing argument. He did, however, point out his economist’s evaluation of the decedent’s economic loss of approximately $10 million. Honda’s counsel argued that the ________ Honda Civic provided state-of-the-art side-impact protection.

Further, Honda asked the jury to find no defect and no causation, and, therefore, to award no damages. After a four-week trial and two hours of deliberation, a nine-person jury returned a unanimous defense verdict.

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