Jury finds Acura’s seat belt defective and awards paralyzed man $55 million verdict against Honda

by Michael Heygood

Carlos Martinez, 57, of York, Pennsylvania, was driving to work in suburban Baltimore when a tire blew out on his Acura Integra. Martinez lost control of the car and it rolled over. As the car was rolling, the seat beat failed to prevent Martinez’s head from hitting the roof of his car. Martinez was paralyzed in the accident. He filed suit against Honda, the company that manufactures Acura vehicles.

Following a nine-day jury trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the jury found that the seatbelt was defectively designed and that Honda failed to use a safer design alternative and failed to provide adequate warnings to consumers about the defective design. The jury’s verdict includes $25 million for Martinez’s pain and suffering, $14.6 million for his future medical expenses, $15 million for his wife’s loss of consortium, and $720,000 for loss of earnings.

During a 1992 rollover test, Honda found that a seat-belted driver would strike his or her head on the Integra’s roof. However, despite that finding, Honda performed no further testing to protect drivers from the hazard, according to lawyers representing Martinez.

Crashworthiness, Vehicle and Tire Defect Litigation

Immediately after a car collision, there is a “second collision,” often more deadly than the first. This “second collision” is the driver and passengers colliding against the interior of their vehicle. The ability of a vehicle to protect the occupants of a automobile in a crash is called “vehicle crashworthiness.”

Mr. Martinez’s unfortunate story serves the illustrate the importance of “crashworthiness.” 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.

“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. During a crash, a vehicle’s occupants are subject to a number of forces that can result in injury, including rapid deceleration and rapid acceleration, depending on the direction of impact in the collision. A crashworthy vehicle design will distribute these injurious forces over as great a period of time and distance as possible, including by directing them to parts of the body that are more capable of withstanding them.

The cause of the “first collision”—a speeding driver, a driver not paying attention, a drunk driver, a driver running a red light, etc.— is generally considered irrelevant in crashworthiness cases. Instead, a crashworthiness case seeks to hold the vehicle manufacturer liable for injuries sustained in a car accident because of a defect that either caused or made worse the injuries suffered in the accident.

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 our law firm 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 a free legal consultation form.