Jury awards $43 million to woman paralyzed in crash when her seat collapsed

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by Michael Heygood

A Vermont woman has won a $43.1 million jury verdict against the manufacturer of a car seat that collapsed on her during a 2007 car accident and left her a paraplegic. News reports suggest it may be the largest verdict ever in Vermont.

Dzemila A. Heco sued the car seat maker, Johnson Controls Inc. of Milwaukee, regarding injuries she suffered in an August 4, 2007, accident. Heco’s car, a 2000 Dodge Neon, was struck from behind by another vehicle.

According to a police accident report, the other driver said she fell asleep just before striking Heco’s car as Heco was waiting at a red light to turn into a grocery store parking lot. The other car was believed to be traveling 35 mph when the crash occurred.

The lawsuit alleged that Heco’s car seat back collapsed on her when the wreck occurred, causing severe spinal-cord injuries. She was wearing a seat belt at the time. The suit claimed the driver’s seating system was designed such that the seat back would collapse and deform rearward during rear-impact crashes. According to the complaint filed by Heco, a safely designed seating system “remains upright and resists collapse when exposed to foreseeable rear impact crash forces” but her car’s seating system, in effect, “was designed so that its seat back would collapse rearward,” the complaint said.

The jury’s June 28th verdict found the seat’s design was defective and caused Heco’s injuries. The Dodge dealership where Heco bought the car was also originally named in the suit, but arrived at a confidential settlement out of court before trial.

Crashworthiness, Vehicle and Tire Defect Litigation

Car and truck manufacturers have a duty to build a car that is as safe as is reasonably possible under the present state of mechanical technology, vehicle design, and safety. Manufacturers are obligated to design vehicles so that they are safe for any reasonably foreseeable use. Obviously, it is reasonably foreseeable that any car or truck will be involved in a collision. Thus, a car manufacturer’s duty includes designing a vehicle that is reasonably safe when a collision occurs.

The ability of a vehicle to protect the occupants of a vehicle in a crash is called “crashworthiness.” The concept of “crashworthiness” refers broadly to numerous features— for example: seat belts, crumple zones and airbags—which are designed to minimize occupant injuries, prevent ejection from the vehicle, and reduce the risk of fire.

A crashworthiness case could involve aspects of the vehicle such as:

  • Air Bags
  • Auto Glass
  • Child Seats
  • Doors
  • Fires
  • Rollovers
  • Roof (“roof crush”)
  • Seat Belts
  • Tires

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a car accident, it may well be that the injuries were caused or made worse because the vehicle was not sufficiently crashworthy. In order to determine whether you may have a case, you need to retain experienced, qualified legal counsel at the earliest opportunity.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have the experience and knowledge to pursue a crashworthiness claim against any of the major auto manufacturers. Contact Heygood, Orr & Pearson for your free case evaluation and to learn more about your legal right to compensation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free contact form located on this page.