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ARTICLE ID 8701

Product liability - Motor vehicle negligence - Alleged defective design of seatback in Hyundai Accent caused the plaintiff to become a paraplegic.

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas p 7 3

The plaintiff alleged that when her Hyundai Accent was rear-ended by a tow truck the lumbar support on the driver’s seat failed and her back was allowed to pocket back into the seatback causing her permanent injury to her spine. The defendant maintained that the force of the rear end collision was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and not a design defect.

The 31-year-old female plaintiff was the driver of a four-door ________ Hyundai Accent. On January 21, ________, at approximately 10:30 a.m. the plaintiff was stopped on the shoulder of the ________ block of the LBJ Freeway approximately ________ feet west of Abrams Road in Dallas Texas. As her vehicle was stopped, it was struck from behind by a ________ GMC C6500 tow truck which weighed approximately ________ pounds and was traveling at high speed. The tow truck had a car and van on its flatbed at the time of the collision. The plaintiff who was seatbelted at the time of the accident suffered injuries to her spine which rendered her a paraplegic. The plaintiff was unconscious at the scene of the accident and has no recollection of the collision.

The plaintiff contended that the driver’s seat lumbar support failed during the accident, pulling out of the inboard mounting of the perimeter frame. The plaintiff alleged that the defective seatback permitted the plaintiff’s back to pocket back into the seatback, permanently injuring her spine.

The plaintiff incurred $________ in medical specials and her anticipated life care plan would cost $________. The plaintiff is the single mother of three children.

The defendant maintained that the mechanics of how the collision occurred were the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendant maintained that changing the design of the seatback would not have altered the outcome of this collision. The plaintiff submitted expert testimony that alleged that the lumbar support on the driver’s seat failed during the accident. The plaintiff’s expert contended that there should have been an additional structure in the center of the seatback so that the occupant’s back would have been given uniform support up and down the entire seatback. The plaintiff maintained through her expert testimony that the lack of the additional support in the center of the seatback allowed the plaintiff’s back to pocket into the seatback and become permanently damaged.

The defendant conducted a crash test, recreating the accident to demonstrate to the jury how violent this collision was. The defendant’s experts testified that the most fatalities in rear impacts occur at speeds lower than the subject accident. The defendant’s seat design expert testified that very few seats are designed the way that the plaintiff’s experts alleged and that the proposed alternative design would most likely cause additional injuries in other types of accidents.

The defendant’s biomechanical expert maintained that the accident did not occur as the plaintiff alleged but rather that the plaintiff’s car was pushed down by the tow truck causing the plaintiff’s back to ramp up the seat until she was struck in the back by parts of the rear of the car being pushed forward by the truck. The defendant, therefore, maintained that the plaintiff would have suffered the same injuries no matter what seatback p 7 3 design was in place.

The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the defendant.

This jurisdiction in Texas is considered to be a plaintiff- friendly product liability jurisdiction and, therefore, this defense verdict was commented by the defendant’s counsel to represent a significant victory for the defendant.

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