A Philadelphia jury has awarded $55.3 million to a man who sued Honda over an allegedly defective seat belt after a car crash left him paralyzed. The Plaintiff, 57-year old Carlos Martinez, was driving his Acura Integra to work in 2010. Martinez lost control of the car when one of the tires blew out. As the car rolled over, his head hit the roof and he suffered injuries that permanently left him in a wheelchair.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, alleges that the severity of his injuries were due to a defective seat belt that failed to secure Martinez in place during the accident. A properly working seat belt would have prevented him from hitting his head on the roof, the suit alleges. Additionally, Honda is accused of knowing about the defect via rollover tests in 1992, but never made any corrective actions.
Car occupants depend on seat belts to “prevent ejection of heads, arms, and other body parts,” a 2004 Public Citizen report states. But oftentimes the belts are inadequate in rollover crashes, the report points out. The authors of the report emphasize the importance of a working seat belt in rollover crashes, which carry a higher risk of fatality. Only three percent of crashes are rollovers, but they account for almost a third of all vehicle deaths. “It is critical that belts perform effectively in rollover crashes,” the authors stated. “yet evidence suggests that safety belts are tragically ineffective in many rollover crashes.” The report cited federal data showing that rollover crashes caused 22,000 deaths between 1992 and 2002; all of the occupants were wearing seat belts.
Honda failed to take the proper measures to ensure greater safety in the event of a rollover, Martinez alleged. The jury sided with him at the conclusion of a nine-day trial. He was awarded $25 million for past and future noneconomic damages, $14.6 million for future medical expenses and approximately $720,000 for the loss of past and future wages. The jury also awarded $15 million to Martinez’s wife for loss of consortium.
Honda disagrees with the jury’s decision and plans to appeal. Reportedly, there has not been a verdict this large for a Pennsylvania crashworthiness case since 1994. The hope is that this verdict will make more people aware of a serious design flaw with seat belts.