Virginia jury orders Mazda to pay $20 million to woman paralyzed by defective Miata windshield

by Eric Pearson

Back in 2006, 35-year-old Shannon Walters was driving her 1995 Mazda Miata convertible on Virginia 619 (Turner Branch Road) in Bedford County, Virginia. The canvas top on her convertible was up. Walters was forced to swerve to the left to avoid a plastic swimming pool that fell from the bed of a pickup truck that was traveling in front of her. The pickup did not stop and its driver was never located. Walters swerved to avoid the airborne plastic pool and veered off the road. She lost control and her Miata flipped and came to rest on its roof.

A latch system that was supposed to hold the windshield to the convertible top failed when the car came to a rest upside down, according to allegations in Walters’ suit against Mazda. The windshield then collapsed onto Walters, leaving her with serious injuries and confining her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, alleged Walters. The lawsuit alleged that the Miata was defectively designed and “unreasonably dangerous.”

A Roanoke Circuit Court jury has ruled in favor of Walters. The jury awarded Walters, who was paralyzed from the chest down, $20 million in damages. Given the award of interest on the sum to be paid from the date of the accident, the total amount could reach close to $30 million.

Crashworthiness: a car should be designed to be reasonably safe AFTER a collision occurs

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. 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

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 problem with the car or truck that either caused or made worse the injuries suffered in the accident.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have the experience and knowledge to pursue a crashworthiness claim against any of the major auto manufacturers. Our success stems in part from the fact that the attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are ready and willing to take a case all the way to trial if that’s what it takes to force the trucking companies and their insurers to take responsibility for their actions. Our attorneys have tried hundreds of cases to verdict. Among our team are numerous attorneys who are board certified* and who have been voted by their peers as Super Lawyers in the state of Texas for several years in a row.**

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.

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.


* Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

** Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.