Driver Catastrophically Injured By Defective Auto Seatback

Synopsis

Plaintiff was driving alone on the freeway in her 1995 Mazda protégé when she braked suddenly to prevent an accident as traffic slowed in front of her. A one-ton Chevy pickup truck rear-ended her, forcing her vehicle to rear-end the vehicle in front of her. In the collision, her seatback collapsed backward and then was crushed by rear intrusion causing her torso to "clam-shell," resulting in injuries including a traumatic brain injury, a broken spine, and broken ribs.

Plaintiff's Allegations

On April 20, 2012, Plaintiff Jane Doe was driving a 1995 Mazda Protégé on the freeway near Oakland when she braked suddenly to avoid a collision and was subsequently rear-ended by a one-ton Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup truck. The impact forced her into a Ford Ranger pickup truck stopped in front of her on the freeway. The rear impact caused intruding metal to crush her seatback after it had collapsed backwards.

If the seatback had held, she would have experienced few or no injuries. It was discovered that Mazda used a pin, rather than a more stable mechanism, to hold the right side of the driver's seat in place, resulting in seat failure at low speeds of impact. The plaintiff's argument was that, although this is a common design feature in the automotive industry, Mazda was not providing the level of safety expected by consumers by not opting to use a safer design.

The plaintiff also sued the driver of the Chevrolet pickup truck for negligence.

Defendants' Allegations

The defendants argued that no seatback could have sustained the force of impact and denied liability for the plaintiff's injuries.

Injuries

Jane Doe suffered massive injuries when her seatback failed, including: fracturing 13 ribs; a burst fracture to her L5 vertebra requiring spinal fusion; cauda equina syndrome; adhesive arachnoiditis; and a traumatic brain injury.

Damages

The plaintiff required significant medical treatment and will require medical care for the remainder of her life. The economic damages totaled $8,967,421, including loss of future earnings of more than $3,200,000 and medical care costs of more than $5,500,000, while the non-economic damages totaled $6,000,000.

Result

The case went to trial, and the jury delivered a $14,967,421 verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Mazda is liable for the economic damages of $8,967,421 and liable for 55% of the non-economic damages totaling $3,700,000.