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Defense Verdict for Honda in Louisiana Seat Belt Trial

Bossier Parish, LA
Feb 03, 2014

Allred v. Honda

CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE.
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On January 31, 2014, after one week of trial and 15 minutes of deliberation, a Bossier Parish, LA jury agreed a 1995 Honda Accord performed properly, was not unreasonably dangerous and that American Honda Motor Co., Inc. was not responsible for the death of Paul Day Allred, Jr. Plaintiffs claimed a poor structure of the vehicle and failure of the seat belt system resulted in the decedent fatally striking the right side of his head on the driver's side sun visor. Honda defended that the fatal injury was caused by the high-energy, offset frontal, oblique angled crash that resulted in a structural mismatch between the SUV and Accord to which no reasonable restraint system could have prevented the fatal injury. 

The subject accident occurred on August 21, 2004. The decedent was operating a 1995 Honda Accord on a secondary highway in Benton, Louisiana. Traveling in the opposite direction was John Parker, the operator of a 1994 SUV, who negligently turned across the median and into the path of the 1995 Honda Accord. The SUV struck the Honda on the left front fender area at an oblique angle and subsequently traveled down the side of the Honda, intruding into the occupant compartment. As a result of the accident, the decedent sustained significant injuries to the left side of his body and a fatal injury to the right side of his brain. The parties stipulated the accident was solely the fault of John Parker and that he was the direct and proximate cause of Mr. Allred's left side injuries, but plaintiff contends that Honda is also liable for an enhanced injury to the right side of decedent's head. 

Plaintiff's theory of defect was that the fatal right side injuries resulted from a combination of poor structure and the failure of the seat belt to timely lock, allowing Mr. Allred to move forward and strike his head on the sun visor.  In response to Honda's motions, however, the Court dismissed plaintiff's structure claim, concluding the opinions of plaintiff's experts Michael Markushewski and Dr. Brian Benda regarding alleged defects in the structure were "unreliable," and plaintiff had failed to present any evidence of an alternative design. At trial, therefore, plaintiff was forced to stipulate the structural components of the 1995 Honda Accord performed properly and as intended during the subject accident and that the deformation of the Honda Accord was not unreasonable given the circumstances of this crash. 

At trial, plaintiff's primary evidence that this was a survivable crash was the relatively low 15 mph Delta V of the crash and the decedent's passenger had walked away from the crash uninjured. Honda responded that while the two young men had been in the same accident, they had been in two very different crashes. The passenger experienced only a relatively low change in acceleration, but the driver was subjected to the tremendous intrusion into the driver's side compartment by the 4200 pound SUV in this offset and oblique angle crash. The fatal blow, Honda's experts explained, was caused by an impact with the SUV and no alternative seatbelt design could have moved the decedent from the path of the intruding SUV.

Honda presented expert testimony from Dr. Denny Guenther (accident reconstruction), Michael Klima (seat belt design) and Dr. Thomas McNish (biomechanics).

Plaintiff was represented by Gerald L. Burnett, Esq., Shreveport, LA.

Honda was represented by Joel Smith, Courtney Shytle, and Brooks Miller of Bowman and Brooke, Columbia, SC and Guyton Valdin of Duplass, Zwain, Bourgeois, Pfister & Weinstock, New Orleans, LA.

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