Ninth Circuit Upholds $3 Million-Plus Jury Verdict for Driver Injured by Defective Air Bag Control System

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Jury pokes hole in manufacturer's claim that air bag did not deploy on purpose

Los Angeles personal injury law firm, Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy announces that The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a decision from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, in which a jury verdict awarded $3.35 million to a woman who was seriously and permanent injured in a car accident in which her air bag failed to deploy. The case was Nicole Thompson v TRW Automotive, Ninth Circuit No. 15-17074.

The accident that formed the basis for the lawsuit occurred in Las Vegas on April 27, 2007. The court records reflect that plaintiff Nicole Thompson was driving a 1998 Dodge Neon when another vehicle swerved into her lane, sideswiping the Neon and forcing it through a road-construction zone, over a curb and head on into a power pole at 30 miles per hour. Court records also reflect that the Neon's air bag did not deploy upon impact with the pole, and Ms. Thompson suffered serious injuries as a result, including a dissected carotid artery and accompanying stroke, a traumatic brain injury resulting in partial paralysis and disabilities, back injuries and more.

Jury finds air bag control module was defectively designed

Ms. Thompson brought claims against the at-fault driver, the road construction company, the seatbelt manufacturer, and TRW, the designer and manufacturer of the Air Bag Electric Control Module (AECM). All of the claims against the various defendants were settled except the claim against TRW, which went to trial. The plaintiff argued at trial that a design defect in the AECM kept the air bag from deploying on impact. Experts testified on both sides of the issue. TRW claimed that its AECM was not defective but was specifically designed not to deploy in this type of accident (known as a concatenated event) where other impacts (such as the original sideswipe) may have jostled the driver out of position, leaving her too close to the air bag for its safe deployment.

The jury rejected TRW's argument and found that the AECM was defective. After a 17-day trial in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of approximately $3.35 million. TRW appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Only one week after hearing oral argument, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court decision. In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit held that substantial evidence supported the conclusion that the AECM was defective, and that this design defect was the cause of Ms. Thompson's injuries.

Courts rejected defendant's attempts to change Nevada law

Both at trial and on appeal, the defense argued for a change in Nevada products liability law. In deciding design defect product liability cases, Nevada uses the consumer expectations test - in other words, the product was dangerously defective because it failed to perform in the manner reasonably to be expected. TRW urged the court to adopt instead the risk-utility test, where a product is considered defective in design only if the cost to change the design is less than the cost of the injury which could result by not correcting the design. This argument was rejected by the appellate court, which ruled that the trial court correctly applied current Nevada law to the case.

The plaintiff was represented at trial and on appeal in part by Clay Robbins, III of the Los Angeles law firm Magaña, Cathcart and McCarthy.

Contact Magaña, Cathcart and McCarthy:

Carter Spohn
1900 Avenue of the Stars
Suite 650, Los Angeles
California 90067

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Carter Spohn

by NextClient Staff Writer
since: 10/2011
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