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ARTICLE ID 8611

Defective design - Motor vehicle - Plaintiff alleges outer rod of door latch and passive restraint system on decedent's auto were defective - Door opens - Seat belt disengages - Decedent ejected from the vehicle, run over and dragged by another vehicle causing death.

Lowndes County, Alabama

The plaintiff maintained that the door latch system and the passive restraint system on the decedent’s Hyundai Excel were defective. The plaintiff contended that upon impact to the driver’s door, the door opened and the passive restraint system failed, causing the female driver to be ejected from the vehicle.

She was then run over by another motor vehicle and dragged approximately ________ feet resulting in her death. The defendant contended that the force of the collision was so great that no latch design system could have withstood such an impact. Further the defendant contended that the decedent was not wearing the lap or shoulder belt at the time of the collision.

On October 31, ________, the decedent, a mother of two children, was operating her ________ Hyundai Excel with over ________ miles. The Excel was equipped with a two-point passive shoulder belt and a manual lap belt. The decedent was not wearing the lap belt. The plaintiffs contended that the decedent was wearing the shoulder belt. The decedent turned left onto a highway in front of an oncoming Freightliner 18-wheel truck that together with its trailer weighed 40 tons. The truck driver stated that he had his cruise control set for 65 mph at the time of the collision.

The truck impacted the left front side of the decedent’s Excel.

The driver’s door on the Excel bowed outward as a result of the collision and caused the door to eventually open. The decedent was ejected from the vehicle, run over and dragged by another vehicle and was found approximately ________ feet from the point of impact. She was killed in the accident. The suit was brought by her two children.

The plaintiffs maintained that the outer rod design of the door latch was defective and it opened as a result. The plaintiffs contended that the latch did not actually fail, rather the outer connection rod was deformed as the outer skin was crushed and opened the latch. Further the plaintiffs maintained that the p 7 3 restraint system on the Excel was defectively designed. The plaintiffs contended that when the door comes open during an accident, the shoulder restraint is no longer operational and the occupant is no longer protected by the shoulder belt.

The defendant maintained that the design and performance of the Excel’s restraint system and side structure were sound. The defendant produced expert testimony to demonstrated that it is virtually impossible to design a vehicle which can protect occupants in this type of extremely forceful collision. The defendant further contended that the decedent was not using the shoulder belt or the lap belt at the time of the collision and there was no design defect or failure with the restraint system.

The defendant produced expert testimony to demonstrate that the type of passive restraint system in place in that Excel was used in millions of vehicles including those made by other large automobile manufacturers such as General Motors, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan. The defendant further produced crash test results which demonstrated that the decedent would have been killed by the force of the collision and not by her ejection from the vehicle.

The plaintiff’s experts maintained that if the door had not opened due to the defective outer rod as they supposed, the decedent would have survived the accident with only minor injuries.

This matter was originally presented to the jury in July ________.

That trial resulted in a hung jury. The jury voted 10-2 in favor of the defendant. Since an unanimous verdict is required in the state of Alabama and the two jurors for the plaintiffs refused to change their votes, the trial judge declared a mistrial after one and a half days of jury deliberation. The matter was then retried on June 14, ________. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. This is reported to be one of the first products liability defense verdicts in this jurisdiction.

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