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Defectively Designed Car in a Pennsylvania Accident

In a recent case, a Pennsylvania husband and wife sued Ford on the grounds that the vehicle’s roof and restraint system were defectively designed. They had bought their car used in 2007. In 2009, while the husband was driving and his wife, three minor children and his mother were inside, the car was hit by a van. Their vehicle spun, hit a guardrail and rolled down a hill.

All were injured though they were wearing seat belts. The wife was rendered a quadriplegic. They claimed that the more serious injuries were caused when the roof crushed down on some of the passengers when the car went down the hill.

While the emergency responders were trying to extract the wife from the car, the roof and pillar of the car were ruined. The car was released to the insurer. The insurer sold the vehicle and the car was destroyed.

At trial, the jury noted on the verdict form that the family didn’t prove a defective roof and that there was an alternative safer design. The jury also noted that the family had not shown the defendant was negligent or that there was an alternative safer design. Because of this finding, the jury didn’t make a determination as to causation or damages.

The family appealed and challenged pretrial evidentiary rulings. The family argued that it should have been able to show evidence that the car company should have been prevented from showing its diving and torso augmentation.

Among other things, the family also argued the court should have allowed it so present statistical evidence about rollover fatalities. The judge had precluded that evidence because the family couldn’t prove the statistics from those accidents were identical to the accident at issue.

The appellate court explained that anyone engaged in the business of selling a particular product that is in a defective condition, and is unreasonably dangerous to consumers, may be liable for physical harm. This rule applies if the product is expected to reach the consumer without significant alteration.

In a product liability case, therefore, the plaintiff must show (1) a defective product, (2) that the defect existed when it left the defendant and (3) that it caused the complained-of harm. Under the crashworthiness doctrine, a plaintiff must show (1) defective vehicle design, (2) that an alternative safe design existed that could have been used instead, (3) the injuries she would have gotten had the safer design been used, and (4) what injuries could be attributed to the defective design.

In this case, the car manufacturer argued that when the car flipped, the passengers were pushed against the roof in a phenomenon called “diving.” The wife’s head was already hitting the roof when it hit the ground, causing her to break her neck in a phenomenon called “torso augmentation.” The car manufacturer argued that these things, not the roof crushing the wife, caused her injuries.

At trial, the family had tried to prevent the manufacturer from presenting evidence of this theory, arguing that the NHTSA had found that roof crush caused these types of injuries. The appellate court disagreed, noting that NHTSA had not categorically excluded diving or torso augmentation as viable theories in rollover crashes.

The family also argued they should be able to present statistical evidence that showed the higher number of death rates for the particular type of car they were driving.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the family had not shown the expert reports and statistical studies were substantially similar to this case. It explained that evidence of prior accidents in this type of case is only admissible if the prior accident is sufficiently similar to a plaintiff’s case. The judgment in favor of the manufacturer was ultimately affirmed.

If you are seriously injured in a car accident, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. An experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorney can evaluate your case and, if appropriate, bring a lawsuit on your behalf to help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Contact the attorneys at Needle Law Firm at 570-344-1266 or via our online form for a free consultation.

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