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Essex County, NJ

The plaintiff, then age 45, contended that his ________ Nissan Altima was defectively designed because the roof header assembly was not attached to the side A-pillars and was merely held in place by the skin of the roof. The plaintiff contended that as a result, he suffered severe spinal cord injuries when the car was struck by a tire and wheel assembly that had detached from the settling pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction. The plaintiff maintained that if the vehicle had been properly designed, the metal deformation from above would have been much less extensive and that he would have avoided the extensive downward forces from the head that resulted in the spinal cord injuries.

The plaintiff contended that as he was traveling south on the Garden State Parkway on his way to Seaside Heights, he was struck from the front by a 73 pound wheel and tire assembly that had detached from a pickup truck heading north on the other side of the parkway. The tire/wheel traveled across a median divider at around milepost 80. The plaintiff contended that the tire traveled and slowed over some distance as it rolled and bounced, crossed over into the south bound lanes and rolled across hood.

The plaintiff maintained instead of header deformation and dispersion of the energy forces across the header and through the joints at the header/side rail connection, the impact resulted in the upper header sliding out of its unattached position at the side rails along with the roof skin allowing substantially more deformation and intrusion of the header with its attached roof skin and roof liner and attached visor into the passenger safety compartment. The plaintiff maintained that this substantial deformation caused by the separation of the header from the side rail caused the roof structures to contact the top front of his head, creating an axial load down into his spine, causing compression fractures in his neck. The plaintiff contended that the flexion load broke more bones in his neck as his chin was pressed down into his chest and followed by additional neck fractures as his head recoiled upward as the tire pressure was released and the roof structures moved away from his head.

The defendant maintained that the attachment was appropriate and met all regulations and standards. The plaintiff countered that federal motor vehicle safety standard ________ for roof crush only requires roof strength testing via a compressive load applied from the side of the vehicles in an inward direction and did not take into account the failure modes which occur with this header design which the plaintiff maintained, allows failure when the header is struck by objects or animals from a frontal or off frontal direction.

The defendant denied that a change in design would have altered the outcome, which the defendant contended was caused by the wheel striking the properly designed Altima when both vehicles were traveling at about the 65 mph speed limit. The plaintiff maintained that the estimate as to the speed of the both drivers was too high. The plaintiff pointed out that the truck driver indicated he had braked and slowed by at least 20 mph when he lost the tire and the plaintiff testified he was probably traveling 55 mph at time, which was below the limit. The settling defendant further maintained that he had no prior awareness of any difficulties with his wheel or tire. The settling defendant indicated that he bought the used truck six months earlier from a dealership and had the car serviced a few times

The plaintiff contended that the 73 pound size of the wheel was relatively small and that impacts with similar forces would occur when a driver struck an object or an animal such as a deer and that such type accidents were highly foreseeable. The plaintiff was wearing a green Oakland A’s baseball cap at the time. The defendant contended that he wore the cap with the brim in the front, and that based upon a mark on the cap, it was clear that he bending forward across the steering wheel upon impact and that he would have been struck by tire intruding through the windshield before the header and roof structures deformed.

The plaintiff contended that he was wearing the cap backwards in a manner similar to that as a catcher and the plaintiff denied that the mark reflected that he was bending forward and would have struck the header assembly if less deformation had occurred. The plaintiff contended that if the defendant’s theory was accurate, there would have been swelling to the back of the head and maintained that in the absence of such a finding on CT-scan, the defendant’s position should be rejected.

The plaintiff also maintained that a smudge mark in the area near the visor contained green markings from the cap and that the markings lined up with the area that would be contacted if the plaintiff had been wearing the cap backwards. The plaintiff contended that the notes taken by an expert shortly after the incident reflected observing green fibers near the smudge mark, and the plaintiff maintained that this factor lent significant support for the plaintiff’s position.

The plaintiff suffered compression fractures and incomplete spinal cord damage. The evidence reflected that the plaintiff regained the ability to walk and to be independent in many areas of his life while an inpatient at Kessler Institute over two months and followed by intense outpatient treatment. The plaintiff maintained that he also suffered a TBI and received treatment both as an outpatient and inpatient. The plaintiff contended that despite dramatic improvement, he remains permanently disabled from employment due to “central cord syndrome.” The plaintiff contended has chronic spasms which create discomfort and require medication management and continuous movement and exercise.

The plaintiff related that he walks at least one mile per day to keep his muscles from contracting and does not sleep through the night because of contractures. The plaintiff also maintained that his upper body strength is limited and his fingers curl with a lack of fine motor coordination. The evidence further indicated that the plaintiff lacks complete bowel control requiring a bowel program. The plaintiff also has no sexual function.

The plaintiff also contended that despite the improvement, the residual cognitive deficits are very substantial and permanent in nature. The plaintiff maintained that he has extensive difficulties with processing multiple pieces of information and with organization. The plaintiff contended that before the accident, he was an active man who worked two jobs for over 18 years, one full time for the United States Postal Service and a second part time job as a driver for DHL Express. The plaintiff also related that he was an avid bowler who had won many trophies in his leagues.

The proofs revealed that since the accident, has resided with his girlfriend of many years, who has acted as his home health care aid and helps him with his daily needs. The plaintiff offered evidence of $3 million economic losses including life care needs and loss of past and future wages.The jury found for the plaintiff on the products liability claim, assessed 85% culpability against the automotive manufacturer and 15% for the injuries which would have occurred from the happening of the accident itself, irrespective of the design. (The jury assessed 15% liability against the settling pickup truck driver and there was no evidence of negligence against the plaintiff.) They then rendered a gross award of $________. The net verdict, including the $________ policy limit settlement from the pickup truck driver, was $________.

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