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19th Circuit Court, St. Lucie County

This consolidated product liability action arose from a single-vehicle rollover collision that occurred on April 9, ________ in Ft. Pierce, Florida. The defendants, in the case, included the manufacturer of the right rear tire on the ________ Trailblazer at issue, as well as the manufacturer of the seatbelts in the vehicle. In this action, a tire manufacturer was accused of product liability leading to a rollover crash. The suit was resolved with a defense verdict.

The defendant, Michelin North America, Inc., is the North American division of French tire manufacturer based in Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne région of France. The plaintiff filed suit in the 19th Circuit Court, St. Lucie County. The three plaintiffs, who were occupants of the vehicle, alleged that the tire was defectively manufactured and designed allowing a tread separation which resulted in a loss of control and rollover. The two teenaged plaintiffs, who were rear seat occupants, alleged that the buckles for their seatbelts suffered from a design defect which allowed them to be ejected in the rollover. The defendants denied the allegations and claimed the plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by driver error, and the installation of a used, unserviceable tire. The defendants claimed the two teenaged rear seat occupants were not wearing their seatbelts when the accident occurred.

The Trailblazer driven by the female plaintiff, Latoya D., age 36, was traveling southbound on I-95 when the tread separated from the vehicle’s right rear tire. The Trailblazer swerved across the paved surface of the roadway and traveled into the grassy median before overturning three-and-a-half times. Rear seat passengers, minor plaintiffs, Kiara D., age 16, and Brandon E., age 14, were ejected during the rollover. The accident sequence ended when the Trailblazer came to rest in the median, on its roof, some ________ feet from the initial tire disablement.

The plaintiff, Latoya D., suffered a fractured left forearm, a non-displaced C2 facet compression fracture of the spine, and a broken right middle finger. She underwent an open reduction internal fixation of the ulnar and radius bones of the left forearm.

As a result of their ejections, the plaintiffs, Brandon E., and Kiara D., suffered traumatic brain injuries. Brandon E. was diagnosed with a diffuse axonal brain injury and claimed neurocognitive impairments including behavioral and personality changes, depression, memory loss, and executive functioning deficits. Kiara D. was diagnosed with brain shear injuries, as well as intracranial hemorrhages and contusions which required surgical intervention. She underwent a craniotomy for management of intracranial swelling and other associated procedures. However, doctors testified that her brain injury caused severe speech and cognitive deficits and hemiplegia on her right side which left her wheelchair dependent.

As to the defendant tire manufacturer, Michelin, the plaintiffs alleged the existence of six manufacturing defects and one design defect in the subject tire. The plaintiffs contended the manufacturing defects eventually led to the tread separation and that the accident would not have occurred had Michelin designed the tire with a nylon cap ply.

As to the seatbelt defendants, the plaintiffs, Kiara D. and Brandon E. alleged the Takata AB seatbelt buckle was defectively designed such that it could unlatch in a rollover due to inadvertent contact with the release button by an occupant’s elbow.

The defendant tire manufacturer denied the subject tire was defective. It argued that the plaintiff, Latoya D., had negligently purchased the tire in a used and unserviceable condition. The tire was the wrong size and eight-and-a-half years old at the time of installation on the Trailblazer, according to evidence offered by the defense. Michelin’s expert testified that a nylon cap ply was unnecessary for the application for which the tire was designed and that the tread separation resulted from preexisting accident damage.

The defendant seatbelt manufacturer denied the existence of any defect in the AB seatbelt buckle and alleged that the plaintiffs, Kiara D. and Brandon E. were not wearing their seatbelts at the time of the accident. The defense maintained that, had they been wearing their seatbelts, the rear seat passengers would not have been ejected from the vehicle to suffer traumatic brain injuries.

The Takata defendants also argued the buckle design complied with all relevant Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and was reasonably designed to minimize the chance of inadvertent unlatch.

Additionally, all defendants alleged the Trailblazer was easily controllable in the event of a tire disablement and that the rollover resulted from the negligence of Latoya Dukes’ handling of the vehicle after the tread separation.The jury found for the defendants. Post-trial motions are pending, including the plaintiffs’ motion for new trial and defendant Takata’s motion for attorney fees and costs (pursuant to proposal for settlement).

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