Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What if the accident was my fault?”
A 17-year-old girl who was “virtually decapitated” at the waist when she “jackknifed” over the lap belt in a 1996 Toyota 4Runner has been awarded $12.5 million by a California jury. If she had brought suit in North Carolina, her case would have been dismissed.
Toyota spokeswoman Carly Shaffner said the carmaker respected the jury’s time and consideration, but she remained confident that plaintiff Chelsie Hill’s injuries “were not the result of a defect in the 1996 Toyota 4Runner.” The jury reached the opposite conclusion after four hours of deliberations.
Hill—now 22—was a passenger in the February 21, 2010 crash in Monterey, California. Driver Aaron Corn, who was only 18 at the time and was driving while under the influence of alcohol, struck a tree while driving 30 miles per hour. The jury found that Corn was five-percent responsible for Hill’s injuries and that Hill was five-percent at fault for getting into a car with a drunken driver.
Dr. Robert Lieberson, the neurosurgeon who treated Hill after the crash, said the lap belt severed the girl at her midsection, and she was only held together by her skin. Lieberson and others testified that Hill used the belt properly.
Hill’s attorney suggested that Toyota chose to install the least safe and least expensive restraint system in the seat. Videos shown to the jury depicting dummies compared crashes involving lap belts against those with shoulder belts. Test dummies with lap-only belts jackknifed violently in crashes, while dummies in lap-and-shoulder belts remained upright.