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United States District Court, District of Vermont

On December 24, ________ the 23-year-old male plaintiff was a seat belted passenger in a ________ Volkswagen Jetta owned and driven by his fiance. The plaintiff alleged that the plaintiff’s vehicle was cut off by another vehicle on Route 10 in Hanover, New Hampshire. As a result, the driver lost control of the vehicle. The vehicle left the roadway, tripped in the snow and went airborne. The vehicle rolled over the side of embankment. The vehicle rolled over several times before it finally came to rest on its wheels. The driver was able to leave the vehicle with little injury. The plaintiff, however, had to be extracted from the vehicle. The passenger side of the Jetta’s roof was crushed inward and down causing the plaintiff to be under the roof in a chin-to-chest position, unable to move his head.

The plaintiff was brought to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where he underwent emergency surgery to stabilize his injuries. The plaintiff was diagnosed with a fracture of the C-6 vertebrae which resulted in incomplete quadriplegia at C6-C7. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant, alleging that the roof design on the Jetta was defective and dangerous in that it crushed excessively when the roof of the vehicle struck the embankment during the crash. The plaintiff, through expert testimony, alleged that a Jetta roof equipped with a roll cage would be a superior design and would have prevented the substantial crushing that resulted in this scenario. The plaintiff also maintained that the restraint system on the vehicle was defective at the time of the incident.

The defendant denied the allegations and maintained that the roof structure was not the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, but rather that the plaintiff’s head was already against the roof at the time when the vehicle was upside down. The defendant introduced evidence at trial that the vehicle’s roof structure was more than twice as strong as required by federal standards. Further, the defendant was able to have the plaintiff’s experts concede, on cross-examination, that the Jetta’s roof strength compared very favorably with that of other ________ vehicles. The plaintiff’s experts also conceded that very few other cars manufactured in ________ would have performed better under similar conditions. The defendant maintained that the plaintiff’s injuries were as a result of vertical load along the axis of the plaintiff’s cervical spine due to the momentum of his body during the rollovers rather than as a result of cervical flexion due to the crushing of the roof.

At the conclusion of the trial, and following nine hours of deliberations, the jury returned its verdict in favor of the defendant and against the plaintiff.

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