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Lackawanna County, PA

This was a product liability action against the manufacturer and seller of a ________ Mercury Sable. The plaintiff alleged that the Sable contained a defectively designed airbag system, resulting in failure of the driver’s side airbag to deploy in a front-end collision. As a result, the plaintiff claimed that he sustained a spinal cord injury with permanent paralysis, and other complications. The defendants maintained that the airbag design was not defective, and that the impact was not severe enough to deploy the airbag.

Evidence showed that plaintiff, age 83 at the time, was driving northbound on Route ________ in Spring Brook Township, Pennsylvania, on August 20, ________. Another driver (a non-party to the lawsuit) approached from the opposite direction, turned left, and struck the front of the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff alleged that a defective airbag system in the Sable he was driving resulted in deployment of the empty-seat passenger side airbag; but not the driver’s side airbag. The plaintiff’s airbag expert testified that the failure of the driver’s side airbag to deploy was caused by defective placement of the forward crush sensor, which triggers the deployment. It was contended that the sensor was mounted in such a way that it did not experience the crush. A safer, feasible, and available design would have dual front sensors, which would have placed at least one directly in the crush zone, according to the plaintiff’s claims.

The plaintiff’s experts testified that the failure of the airbag to deploy permitted the plaintiff to strike his head on the windshield. The plaintiff was diagnosed with a disc herniation at the C7-T1 level. Although he underwent a cervical fusion, and decompression surgery following the collision, the plaintiff has been left with a permanent paralysis of his lower extremities, and suffered multiple complications, including neurogenic bowel and bladder, diabetes, pneumonia, and a pressure ulcer, according to his physicians. The plaintiff’s life care costs were estimated to be $________.

The defendant manufacturer argued that the airbag system of the Mercury Sable was properly designed, the sensors appropriately placed, and that the system met all applicable safety standards. The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert opined that the Sable was traveling approximately 40 to 50 mph, and the left-turning vehicle approximately 10 mph at the time of the collision.The defense argued that the front-end impact was not within the threshold required to cause activation of the airbags.

The defendant also argued that deployment of airbags in relatively light-impact collisions could result in unnecessary airbag-related injuries to the vehicle passengers, and that the airbag system functioned as intended.

On damages, the defense maintained that the seatbelt system in the Sable prevented the plaintiff from striking his head severely enough to cause the large C7-T1 disc herniation, and that the herniation was caused by an aging process which pre-existed the collision. The defendant contended that the plaintiff suffered numerous pre-existing health conditions, which accounted for his symptoms, surgery and subsequent complications.The jury found that the airbag system in the Mercury Sable was uncrashworthy. The plaintiffs were awarded $________ in damages. The jury found for the defendant on the failure to warn claim. Post-trial motions are currently pending.

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