A Bessemer, Ala., jury returned a $9 million verdict last month in favor of Sydney McLemore and John and Barbara Hurst in a case against Mazda Motor Corporation. The verdict allocated $6 million for Sydney McLemore and $3.9 million for Mr. & Mrs. Hurst. Ben Baker, a lawyer in our firm, represented Ms. McLemore in the case. She was burned over 15 percent of her body when the 2008 Mazda 3 sedan she was driving was involved in a crash and caught fire. Jefferson County lawyers Bruce Petway, Janet Olsen, and A.W. Bolt represented Mr. and Mrs. Hurst. Their daughter, Natalie Hurst, was killed in the fire when she was trapped in the burning vehicle.
The Mazda vehicle was defectively designed with the fuel tank placed adjacent to a hard metal muffler with a sharp edge and no proper shield. As a result, the muffler ruptured the fuel tank, causing a fuel-fed fire. Mazda should have been aware that this design would lead to the likelihood of a post-collision fuel-fed fire because the placement of the muffler next to the fuel tank violated industry design standards.
Because Mazda chose not to follow industry standards, Ms. McLemore was seriously burned and required multiple painful skin grafts. Sadly, Natalie lost her life. All of this could have been avoided if Mazda had placed the safety of its customers first. Evidence showed that it was industry practice to place the muffler behind the rear axel and not next to the fuel tank.
The occupants of this car would have escaped with minor injuries had a proper design and placement of the muffler been done by Mazda. We were pleased to have had the opportunity to help these clients. The result in the case was certainly justified based on the facts and law applicable to this case. The trial lasted three weeks, under the direction of Judge Eugene Verin in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Ala., Bessemer Division. Ben and the other lawyers did an outstanding job in this most significant case.
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