Victims of Mazda fuel tank fire awarded $10 million verdict by Alabama jury

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by Jay Pate

A driver lost control and hit a utility pole. Shortly after striking the pole, the fuel tank in her 2008 Mazda3 ruptured and started a fire. Although the driver, Sydney Kay McLemore, was able to escape the fiery crash, she was burned over 15 percent of her body. McLemore suffered severe burns in the auto accident that required skin grafts and left her permanently unable to pursue many normal activities. Her passenger, Natalie Jean Hurst, died when she was unable to escape the burning car.

McLemore and Hurst’s parents sued Mazda, alleging that a negligent design of the 2008 Mazda3 sedan contributed to the post-crash fire. Mazda was negligent in designing the sedan so that the fuel tank was placed unguarded next to a hard metal muffler containing sharp edges, according the lawsuit. The plaintiffs alleged that Mazda should have known that its design would increase the likelihood of a post-crash fire and that the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous and defective in its design.

An Alabama jury has found for the plaintiffs and against Mazda. The jury awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages to McLemore. The jury also awarded $3.9 million to Hurst’s parents.

“Crashworthiness” Vehicle Defect Litigation

Car and truck manufacturers know that any vehicle they make can be involved in a collision. Thus, a car manufacturer’s duty to design a vehicle that is reasonably safe for all reasonably foreseeable uses includes a duty to design a vehicle that is reasonably safe when a collision occurs. The extent to which a car or truck has been designed to protect the occupants in a collision is called “vehicle crashworthiness. “Crashworthiness” refers broadly to many aspects of a vehicle (e.g., seat belts, crumple zones and airbags) that are intended to minimize occupant injuries, prevent ejection from the vehicle, and reduce the risk of fire.

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.