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ARTICLE ID 29451

$________ GROSS - PRODUCTS LIABILITY - UNREASONABLY DANGEROUS ROLL-OVER PROPENSITY - DEFECTIVE DOOR DESIGN - QUADRIPLEGIC INJURY TO PLAINTIFF OPERATOR FOLLOWING REAR END COLLISION.

Los Angeles County, California

The subject products liability lawsuit arose out of a two-vehicle accident involving the plaintiffs’ ________ Toyota 4-wheel drive pickup truck, which was rear-ended by a Ford station wagon, causing the plaintiffs’ truck to travel off the side of the highway and roll over. The female plaintiff operator, age 28 at the time and a mother of two young children, was ejected from the vehicle, landed on the back of her head and suffered a C-4,C-5 neck fracture which left her quadriplegic. The plaintiff operator contended that the severe injuries which she sustained in the accident were occasioned by the unreasonably dangerous roll-over propensity of the pick-up truck and the pick-up truck’s defective door design which caused the driver’s door to pop open during the roll-over. Personal injury claims were also submitted to the jury on behalf of the two minor plaintiffs, the children of the driver, who were sleeping in the pick-up truck’s rear compartment at the time of the accident and were thrown from the vehicle during the accident.

The underlying accident occurred April 29, ________, when the female plaintiff was driving her recently-purchased Toyota 4-wheel drive pick-up truck. Her husband was in the right passenger seat and her two small children were sleeping under the camper shell in the rear compartment. The plaintiff and her family were traveling on Interstate 40 near Seligman, Arizona, on their way to a family vacation in the Grand Canyon. Early in the morning, they were rear-ended by a Ford Torino station wagon. The driver of the Ford had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel. Following the rear end impact, the Toyota truck traveled off the roadway to the right and rolled over in the Arizona Desert. The plaintiff contended that during the roll-over, the driver’s door popped open because of a lack of strength. After the door opened, the plaintiff was thrown from the vehicle and landed on the back of her head. Her neck was fractured, resulting in the quadriplegic injury.

The plaintiff’s liability experts testified that the vehicle was inherently unstable as designed and the door was dangerously weak. With regard to the instability claim, the plaintiffs experts testified that the subject vehicle was top heavy and that its wheel base was too narrow, thus accounting for what the plaintiff’s experts testified was an unreasonably dangerous propensity to roll over. The plaintiff’s experts conclusions were based upon analytical analysis using the statistical stability ratio formula. The plaintiff’s experts additionally testified that the design of the vehicle door was defective in that it was uncrashworthy and lacked sufficient strength to withstand the application of foreseeable forces. Specifically, the experts related that the door lacked an intrusion beam and a stiffener plate between the outer handle and the door latch, a feature which is standard in all passenger vehicles, but which is not standard on light trucks such as the subject vehicle. The plaintiff’s experts contended that as a result, the door bulged at this area during the roll-over, causing the driver’s latch rod to deflect downward 3/8 of an inch, popping the door open.

The defendant’s liability experts testified that subject pick-up truck was not unstable and that it turned over because of the high speed of the impact to the rear of the vehicle and because of the manner in which the truck was impacted by the station wagon. The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert testified that when the station wagon hit the rear of the pick-up truck at high speed, the station wagon traveled under the pickup truck, tipping it over. The defendant’s experts additionally disputed the plaintiff’s claim that the door was weak and maintained that the door opened during the roll-over when rocks from the desert surface became lodged in the door, forcing it open. The defendant further asserted that the plaintiff was comparatively negligent based upon the fact that she was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident. The defendant’s biomechanics expert testified that the plaintiff’s cervical injury occurred inside the vehicle, during the roll-over, and that the injury would have been prevented had she been wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident. The plaintiff’s biomechanics expert countered that the injury would have been the same, or worse had the plaintiff been wearing the seatbelt due to the unsafe design of the door, and that the plaintiff’s head would likely have been thrown outside the vehicle and crushed during the roll-over.

The medical testimony established that the plaintiff sustained a C-4,C-5 fracture which has left her with a permanent quadriplegic injury. The plaintiff has regained partial upper arm and hand movement, and is able to use a computer, and feed herself with assistance. The plaintiff’s physicians explained that because the plaintiff has a catheter in place, she is at risk for infection and must have regular urologic consults. The plaintiff’s expert economist quantified the plaintiff’s economic loss, including lost earnings and medical bills of approximately $________.

The medical testimony also indicated that the minor plaintiffs sustained bruises and contusions as a result of the accident, as well as psychological injuries from which they both continue to suffer. The jury awarded the plaintiff $________, reduced by 15% for comparative fault based upon the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt. The minor plaintiffs, ages 11 and nine at time of trial, were compensated $________ for the injuries that they sustained in the accident. Plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert: John N. Noettl from Vehicle Support Systems, Inc. in Scottsdale, Az. Plaintiff’s expert biomechanical engineer: ANthony Sances from Milwaukee, Wisc. Plaintiff’s expert mechanical engineer: John Marcosky from Southfield, Mi.

Plaintiff’s treating neurosurgeon: Lawrence Mongeon from Fullerton, Ca. Plaintiff’s rehabilitation expert: Rebecca Lumer from Houston, Tx. Plaintiff’s expert economist: Joyce Pickersgill from Santa Ana, Ca. Defendant’s accident reconstruction expert: James J. Schultz from Carson, Ca. Defendant’s expert biomechanical engineer: Vern L. Roberts from Durham North Carolina. Defendant’s expert auto design engineer: Thomas O.

Tiede from Torrance, Ca. Defendant’s expert economist: George M.

Brinton from Los Angeles, Ca. Gosper vs. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. Case no. SWC ________; Judge William C. Beverly, Jr.

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Raymond P. Johnson of the Law Offices of Sandford M. Gage in Beverly Hills and Frank Revere of Revere Rykoff & Wallace in Los Angeles; Attorneys for defendant: Warren E. Platt and Albert J. Dahm of Snell & Wilmer in Irvine, Ca.

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