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Defense claimed passenger was unbelted during rollover

Type:

Verdict-Defendant

State:

California

Venue:

San Bernardino County

Court:

Superior Court of San Bernardino County, San Bernardino

Injury Type(s):

brain-traumatic brain injury; paralysis/quadriplegia-paraplegia

Case Type:

Consumer Protection - Motor Vehicle - Rollover, Passenger, Seat Belt, Phantom Vehicle; Products Liability - Automobiles, Design Defect

Case Name:

Terry Herbert, by and through her daughter Jacqueline Lee Dadgarkiani v. Ford Motor Company, Takata Corporation, Takata Seat Belts, Inc., TK Holdings, Inc., Sylvia Maria Caceres II, and Priscilla Stewart, No. CIVDS1415915

Date:

March 16, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Terry Herbert (Female, 58 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Scot D. Wilson; Robinson Calcagnie, Inc.; Newport Beach, CA, for Terry Herbert ■ Henry Y. Pan; Robinson Calcagnie, Inc.; Newport Beach, CA, for Terry Herbert ■ Conor M. Kelly; Robinson Calcagnie, Inc.; Newport Beach, CA, for Terry Herbert

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Glen Stevick; Ph.D., P.E.; Mechanical; Berkeley, CA called by: Scot D. Wilson, Henry Y. Pan, Conor M. Kelly ■ Paul Lewis; M.S.; Biomechanics; Alpharetta, GA called by: Scot D. Wilson, Henry Y. Pan, Conor M. Kelly ■ Michael McCort; M.S., P.E.; Accident Reconstruction; Denver, CO called by: Scot D. Wilson, Henry Y. Pan, Conor M. Kelly

Defendant(s):

Priscilla Stewart, 

TK Holdings, Inc., 

Ford Motor Company, 

Takata Corporation, 

Sylvia Maria Caceres II, 

Takata Seat Belts, Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

Mark V. Berry; Bowman and Brooke LLP; Torrance, CA, for Ford Motor Company ■ James J. Yukevich; Yukevich | Cavanaugh; Los Angeles, CA, for TK Holdings, Inc., Takata Corporation, Takata Seat Belts, Inc. ■ Scott L. Macdonald; Macdonald & Cody, LLP; Irvine, CA, for Priscilla Stewart, Sylvia Maria Caceres II ■ Sabina A. Helton; Buchalter Nemer APLC; Los Angeles, CA, for TK Holdings, Inc., Takata Corporation, Takata Seat Belts, Inc.

Defendant Expert(s):

Andrew Levitt; Accident Reconstruction; Torrance, CA called by: Mark V. Berry, James J. Yukevich, Sabina A. Helton ■ Donald Tandy, Jr.; Automobiles; Magnolia, TX called by: Mark V. Berry, James J. Yukevich, Sabina A. Helton ■ Kenneth Solomon; Accident Reconstruction; Westlake, CA called by: Scott L. Macdonald ■ Michael Carhart; Biomechanics; Phoenix, AZ called by: Mark V. Berry, James J. Yukevich, Sabina A. Helton

Facts:

In 2012, plaintiff Terry Herbert, 58, a former teachers' assistant, was seated in the rear, left passenger seat of a 2007 Ford Fusion with three other occupants, on their way back from a church event in Fort Mohave, Ariz. As they were traveling on Twentynine Palms Highway, also known as State Route 62, in San Bernardino, when the driver, Sylvia Caceres II, lost control of the vehicle and swerved off of the road. The vehicle rolled three or four times before coming to rest in the desert. Herbert was ejected from the vehicle and thrown a distance of 25 to 70 feet. She subsequently sustained injuries to her head. Herbert claimed that although she was belted when the vehicle started to roll, the belt unlatched after the pushbutton release was engaged after inadvertent elbow contact. Herbert sued Caceres; the registered owner of Caceres' vehicle, Priscilla Stewart; the manufacture of the vehicle, Ford Motor Co.; and the manufacturers of the seat belt, Takata Corp., Takata Seat Belts Inc., and TK Holdings Inc. Herbert alleged that Caceres was negligent in the operation of the vehicle and that Stewart was vicariously liable for Caceres' actions. Herbert also alleged that Ford Motor, Takata Corp., Takata Seat Belts, and TK Holdings had defectively designed the vehicle's seat belts based on the consumer expectations test. Stewart was ultimately dismissed from the case, and the matter continued against the remaining defendants. Herbert claimed that Caceres had failed to maintain proper control of the vehicle, causing it to roll over. She also claimed that the Takata AB buckle on the seat belt was defectively designed in that the product did not perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected. Caceres claimed that an oncoming vehicle swerved into her lane, causing her to swerve her own vehicle in an attempt to avoid colliding with the phantom vehicle. However, she alleged that she lost control while attempting to take evasive action. Caceres' accident reconstruction expert opined that Caceres acted reasonably to a sudden emergency. Caceres' expert also opined that Herbert was belted, but he agreed with the scientific literature and conceded that Herbert did not have the type of entanglement injuries consistent with the literature. Counsel for Ford Motor and the Takata defendants claimed that Caceres fell asleep at the wheel. Ford and Takata's automobiles expert opined that Caceres overreacted and oversteered to whatever situation she faced. Thus, the expert opined that Caceres' overreaction caused the vehicle to roll over. Defense counsel argued that the seat belt was not defective and that Herbert was not wearing her seat belt at the time of the accident. Although Herbert, Caceres, and two other eyewitness occupants each testified that Herbert wore her seat belt during the accident, counsel for Ford Motor and the Takata defendants questioned their credibility, noting that their testimony was inconsistent.

Injury:

Herbert sustained a traumatic brain injury and was rendered a T4 paraplegic in the accident. She was subsequently taken via LifeFlight to Sunrise Medical Center, in Las Vegas. Herbert is now confined to a bed and a wheelchair. She requires 24/7 care and needs assistance for all of her daily activities. As a result, she is currently housed in a nursing facility. Herbert had resigned from her job as a teacher's assistant three months before the subject accident. Plaintiff's counsel asked the jury to award Herbert over $25 million in total damages.

Result:

The jury rendered a defense verdict. It found that Ford and the Takata defendants were not liable, in that the Takata AB seat belt was not to blame for the injuries Herbert sustained. The jury also found that Caceres was not negligent in her driving of the Ford Fusion. In addition, there was a special verdict finding that Herbert was not wearing her seat belt at the time of the accident.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Donald R. Alvarez

Trial Length:

10  weeks

Trial Deliberations:

3  days

Jury Vote:

9-3 as to whether Herbert was wearing her seat belt

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel, and defense counsel for Takata Corp., Takata Seat Belts Inc., TK Holdings Inc., Priscilla Stewart, and Sylvia Maria Caceres II. Defense counsel for Ford Motor Co. did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.