The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently that the manufacturer of a sports utility vehicle can be liable for the death of passenger who was ejected from her reclined seat in a rollover crash. The Appeals Court affirmed an $810,000 jury verdict. The Plaintiffs’ 19-year-old daughter died when she was ejected from the front passenger seat of a 2005 Hyundai Tucson SUV that rolled over three times in a freeway crash. The decedent had reclined her seat before the crash in order to take a nap.
The Plaintiffs sued Hyundai for design defect, alleging that the restraint system for the front seat was defective because it failed to adequately protect passengers who reclined their seat at a greater than 45-degree angle. Hyundai argued that the Plaintiffs could not show that there existed safer alternative designs for liability under applicable Texas law. The Appeals Court disagreed, saying:
To succeed on their design defect claim, the [Plaintiffs] must have shown that a safer alternative – limiting the seat recline to a 45 degree angle – would have prevented or significantly reduced the risk of [their daughter’s] injuries. … The [Plaintiffs’] expert … testified that seats reclined more than a 45 degree angle lead to a significantly increased risk of ejection. He further testified that ejection increases the risk of serious injury or death by six to thirteen times. The Texas statute only requires proof of a safer alternative design that ‘in reasonable probability’ would have reduced the Claimant’s injuries, which [the expert’s] testimony adequately provided.
This was a most significant ruling for a number of reasons. Most folks don’t realize that there is a risk of injury or death when a front passenger seat is reclined. Most believe their seat belt will protect them if for any reason the vehicle they are riding in is involved in a crash. Also, rollover incident is not a crash event that untrained people even think about. It’s not something that’s on their radar screen as a rule.
Source: Lawyers USA Online
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