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Teacher Awarded $1.7 Million After Losing Arm In SUV Rollover

Jan 23, 2003 | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A South Florida fifth-grade teacher who lost her left arm in an SUV rollover accident was awarded $1.7 million in damages from Nissan Motor Co. on Wednesday.

A Broward Circuit Court jury deliberated four days before initially awarding $3.4 million to Andrea Alvarez. But the amount was reduced because jurors found Alvarez, of Boynton Beach, 49 percent at fault in the 1997 crash. Nissan was assigned 51 percent of the blame.

Alvarez's attorney, Robert Kelley, said he would appeal and seek the entire award. Nissan attorneys said they were considering an appeal.

"We're satisfied with the jury's verdict," Kelley said. "This vehicle should never have rolled over like it did."

Kelley said Alvarez, 35, was driving her 1993 Nissan Pathfinder home from work on Oct. 17, 1997, when she drifted off the Sawgrass Expressway.

According to the testimony at trial, Alvarez was able to steer the vehicle back onto the road safely, but the Pathfinder abruptly flipped onto its driver's side in the middle of the expressway, and Alvarez's arm was pinned below the vehicle as it ground to a halt. She lost her arm just above the elbow.

Kelley said the evidence at trial showed that although the SUV was never recalled, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported the 1993 Pathfinder as having the highest fatality rate in its class.

Bennett Traub, an attorney for Nissan in California, said the company was sympathetic about Alvarez's injury but disappointed with the verdict.

"The evidence showed Ms. Alvarez lost control of her vehicle, drove off the road into the median and made a violent steering maneuver in an effort to regain the highway, causing the vehicle to roll over," he said. "Any vehicle would have rolled under these circumstances. We believe there's nothing wrong with the design of the Pathfinder."

Alvarez is a teacher at Manatee Elementary School west of Boynton Beach. She has been with the Palm Beach County School District since 2001.

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