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ARTICLE ID 29900

$________ - PRODUCTS LIABILITY - HYUNDAI EXCEL EQUIPPED WITH DEFECTIVELY DESIGNED SEATBELT SYSTEM - MINOR PLAINTIFF FRONT SEAT PASSENGER SUFFERS BRAIN INJURY WHEN CAR IMPACTS REAR OF ABANDONED TRUCK.

Los Angeles County, California

This action arose out of a motor vehicle accident involved an illegally parked tractor-trailer and a ________ Hyundai Excel operated by the minor plaintiff’s mother. Suit was brought against the defendant Hyundai, alleging that the serious and permanent brain injury sustained by the nine-year-old plaintiff front seat passenger was proximately caused by the defective design of the two point diagonal seatbelt system which failed to incorporate a lap belt, as well as defects in the structural crashworthiness of the vehicle. The trucking company which owned the illegally parked tractor-trailer settled for the policy limits of $________ prior to trial.

The subject accident occurred on September 12, ________. The minor plaintiff was a passenger in the right front seat of the family’s ________ Hyundai Excel operated by the plaintiff’s mother. The evidence indicated that the plaintiff’s mother drove the Excel into the rear of an illegally parked ________ pound tractor- trailer which had been left in the northbound ramp to the ________ Freeway at night without flares.

The plaintiff’s seatbelt design expert testified that the subject seatbelt system was defective and unreasonably dangerous in that it lacked a lap belt. Additionally, the plaintiff’s experts related that small children were vulnerable to submarining under the diagonal belt which exposed them to enhanced risk of serious neck or head injury.

The plaintiff’s biomechanical experts testified that the seatbelt compressed the minor plaintiff’s neck during the impact and post- collision, causing anoxia and resulting permanent brain damage.

The plaintiff’s treating neurosurgeon and expert neurologist opined that the permanent brain damage sustained by the plaintiff was the result of anoxic ischemia, ie. deprivation of oxygen to the brain. The plaintiff called the paramedics who arrived at the scene to testify as to their observations. These witnesses related that they found the plaintiff with the seatbelt pressed tightly against his neck.

The defendant Hyundai maintained that the seatbelt system was p 7 3 safe as designed and manufactured and that the design fully complied with applicable Federal Safety Standards. The plaintiff countered that compliance with Federal Standards did not establish that the product was safe per se and did not exempt the plaintiff from the strict liability laws of the State of California.

The defendant further asserted that the accident was solely attributable to the combined negligence of the plaintiff’s mother and the tractor/trailer company. The defense contended that the mother was traveling at a speed of approximately 48 mph when the car impacted the rear of the truck.

The defendant maintained that the subject accident was an extremely severe, high impact crash and that the minor plaintiff’s head injury was caused by the severity of the crash.

The defendant’s experts testified that the plaintiff’s neck was not compressed by the seatbelt system, but that the plaintiff suffered diffuse anoxal brain injury caused by the sudden deceleration of the brain within the skull which occurred at the time of the sudden impact. The defendant’s experts testified that the neurological and radiological evidence supported this causation theory.

The plaintiff’s medical experts testified that the plaintiff suffers from severe and permanent brain damage and, although he is psychologically responsive, he is quadriparetic with an inability to see or talk. It is uncertain whether or not the plaintiff is blind as he does not appear to react to movement, according to the plaintiff’s experts. The expert testimony established that the plaintiff requires 24 hour-per-day attendant care. The plaintiff claimed special damages, including medical and attendant care costs, in the approximate amount of $________. The plaintiff additionally claimed lost income ranging from $1.8 million to $2.2 million depending upon whether the plaintiff would have graduated from college.

The jury apportioned liability as follows: 35% to Hyundai; 50% to the settling defendant trucking company; and 15% to the plaintiff’s mother. The jury awarded $________. The $________ non-economic portion of the verdict is subject to reduction in accordance with the apportionment of liability, as per California’s Proposition 51, but such determination is presently pending.

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