$15 Million – Seatbelt Failure

A jury in Los Angeles County awarded $15 million to a 9-year-old boy who was left paralyzed and brain-damaged after a freeway collision. The action alleged that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by defects in the vehicle’s occupant restraint system‚ and the failure of the manufacturer to provide adequate instructions and warnings.

Verdictum Juris

Volume 14 Issue 8

$15.0 Million - Seatbelt Failure

OUR CENTERFOLD…A VERY EXPENSIVE SEAT BELT: In 1988, Hyundai figured they could meet Federal Safety Standards regarding seat belts by installing a shoulder harness and doing away with the lap belt. This would save money . . . right? Well‚ recently down in Norwalk‚ Mark P. Robinson‚ Jr., Kevin Calcagnie and William Haggerty proved how wrong Hyundai was in making that decision. Bill Hart‚ Darrell Forgey, and house counsel for Hyundai, Jerry Flannery, knew they were in trouble when they raised the offer from $100‚000 to a million on the fourth day of deliberations. Three days later‚ the verdict was read . . . a whopping $15‚040‚000. Our records indicate this is by far the highest award ever on a seat belt case. The moral: you can install a whole lot of seat belts for $15 million!

Facts

$15.0 Million - Seatbelt Failure

September 12, 1990, at night: Plaintiff Adam‚ 9 years old‚ was a passenger in the right front seat of a 1988 Hyundai Excel. His mother was driving. She was entering the northbound Del Amo on-ramp to the 605 Freeway. In front of her was an illegally parked, 119‚000-pound tractor-trailer rig. There were no flares or warnings that the rig was blocking the on ramp. Adam’s mother hit the parked rig at a speed of 35 to 48 mph. Adam was belted in with the Hyundai standard seat belt. This was a two-point, diagonal seat belt which did not have a lap belt. At impact‚ Adam slid under the diagonal seat belt and was choked by the seat belt that was across his throat.

Plaintiff claimed the design of the seat belt was defective because it failed to provide a lap belt restraint. The defendants knew that small children were vulnerable to serious injury because they could slide under the seat belt‚ running the risk of serious neck or head injury. The belt compressed Adam’s neck leading to anoxia and permanent brain damage. Compliance with Federal Standards did not exempt the defendant from the strict liability laws of the State of California.

Defendant argued that the accident was totally the fault of Sandy Ketchum and the negligent tractor trailer company. The severity of the crash was the proximate cause Adam’s head injury. Adam did not suffer anoxia from the seat belt. The plaintiff’s injury was rather diffuse axonal brain injury. Also‚ the vehicle’s restraint met all Federal Safety Standards‚ including Standard 208.

Verdict

$15‚040‚000 total; Adam Ketchum: $13 million economic damages‚ $2 million non-economic damages; Robert Ketchum‚ Jr.: $40‚000 economic.

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