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Bucks County

This action was brought under strict liability theory against the defendant General Motors Corporation in relation to its design and manufacturer of the ________ Chevrolet Chevette. The plaintiff, a 33-year-old female at the time of injury, alleged that the seats of the vehicle were defectively designed so as to cause the back of the seat to collapse upon rear end impact, throwing the plaintiff into the back seat. The plaintiff sustained a permanent spinal cord injury in the accident rendering her a complete quadriplegic. The defendant argued that the seats were designed for maximum safety and that more rigid seatback designs carried a greater risk of personal injury to occupants of the vehicle.

Evidence showed that the plaintiff, a single woman with no children, was a belted front seat passenger in a vehicle driven by a male friend. The host driver backed up the plaintiff’s Chevette on the shoulder of the road after missing an exit. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the host driver stopped the car, but before he had a chance to move forward, the car was struck from behind by a Honda Prelude traveling approximately 35 mph. The plaintiff’s biomechanical engineer testified that the rear end impact caused the front passenger seat of the vehicle to collapse, vaulting the plaintiff into the back seat where she sustained a sever injury to her spinal cord.

The plaintiff’s seat design expert opined that the seatbacks of the Chevette were defectively designed by the defendant, General Motors, in that the seat should not have collapsed upon impact from behind. The plaintiff introduced evidence that the defendant had been involved in at least 60 prior claims involving seatback collapse in vehicles which it manufactured. The jury heard parts of four General Motors internal studies from ________, ________, ________ and ________ which all addressed the issue of yielding vs. less yielding seatback designs. The plaintiff contended that the reports recommended the seats remain relatively upright and not collapse at impacts speeds in the order of 30 mph in order to avoid the known risk of quadriplegia caused when occupants are vaulted into the rear seat. The plaintiff also introduced videos of General Motors crash tests which depicted a dummy being ramped into the back seat of the vehicle after the seat collapsed upon rear end impact.

The plaintiff’s physiatrist testified that the plaintiff has been rendered a permanent quadriplegia and will require living assistance for the remainder of her life. The plaintiff’s economist estimated the plaintiff’s past and future wage loss as $1 to $1.2 million. A "Day in the Life Video" was presented to the jury showing the plaintiff’s daily activities. The plaintiff’s past and future medical expenses were estimated at an additional $11 to $13 million, including the cost of home modifications and specialized transportation.

The defendant’s biomechanical expert testified that the p 7 3 plaintiff was twisted between the front seats looking out the rear window when the impact occurred. The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the host vehicle was still moving backwards when it was struck from behind at a speed of approximately 50 mph. The defense maintained that a more rigid seatback would not have prevented the injuries sustained by the plaintiff. The defendant’s in-house engineer testified that the seatbacks were designed to collapse or be more "yielding" because studies established that yielding seats provide safety benefits over rigid seats in preventing the more common neck and back injuries. Serious injuries related to seat collapse are very rare, according to defense arguments.

The jury found for the plaintiff in the amount of $28 million.

The general verdict did not breakdown the amount of the award.

Post-trial motions are pending.

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