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Megison v. General Motors

California
May 24, 2007

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.

California Jury Finds Air Bag System in Chevrolet Avalanche Not Defective

San Jose, CA - On Thursday, May 24, 2007 a Santa Cruz County, California, Superior Court jury found that the air bag system in a 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche was not defective in design, rejecting claims that General Motors and the State of California were responsible for the injuries sustained by plaintiff in a 2004 crash.  The jury in Paul Megison v. General Motors Corporation, State Of California Department Of Transportation (Cal Trans), and Ron Carrillo Mabalot deliberated for two and a half hours before rendering a unanimous verdict for the defendants. 

On April 8, 2004, shortly after midnight, Paul Megison was driving his 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche on Highway 1 from the home of his friends in Watsonville to his home in Prunedale, California.  Megison was alone in the vehicle.   While crossing the Struve Slough Bridge, Megison struck the rear of a California Department of Transportation crash attenuator and then struck the rear of the cargo truck towing the attenuator.  The air bag in the Avalanche did not deploy.

Megison sustained a traumatic brain injury, facial fractures, and wrist and knee injuries.  Through their design witness, Robert N. Anderson, plaintiffs criticized the design of the air bag system used in the Chevrolet Avalanche.  Anderson claimed that, in an accident of this type and severity, the air bag should have deployed and would have prevented plaintiff’s injuries.  Plaintiff’s reconstructionist, Robert Lindskog, also claimed that the CalTrans truck towing the attenuator changed lanes in front of the Avalanche, causing the collision.  However, plaintiff’s experts did not offer much in the way of explanation about the crash mechanics, how the vehicles interacted, or the occupant’s movements during the crash.    Plaintiff admitted his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit.  It was .16 at the time it was tested at 3:41 am.

Defense expert Ronald Woolley, Ph.D., reconstructed the crash for the defendants and concluded that the vehicle was straddling the center line of the two southbound lanes and struck the CalTrans truck from behind as the truck was moving slowly southbound in the number one lane.  Woolley explained this was a long, soft accident; it was 4 times “slower” than the average accident and “soft” because it did not involve an impact into the frame of the Avalanche.  The fact it was a long-duration, soft accident was not disputed by plaintiff’s experts, and the long-duration, soft-impact character of the crash was significant to the air bag performance.  Douglas Nunan of Delphi, the company that designed the air bag’s sensing system and Sensing Diagnostic Module (“the Black Box”), explained that the air bag system worked as it was designed and intended, and that the recorded data showed the accident never got to the level that required air bag deployment.  The defense biomechanic, John Melvin, Ph.D., explained that this was an “intrusion” accident where materials from the truck and Cal Trans vehicle intruded into the Megison’s occupant compartment, and air bags are not designed and cannot protect against intruding materials.  In addition, Dr. Melvin explained that, had the air bag gone off, Megison would have likely been killed.  Therefore, the air bag was properly designed and performed as designed by not deploying in this crash.  This design, in all likelihood, saved Megison’s life.

Defendants argued that the Chevrolet Avalanche and its air bag system were not defective, and they further argued that Megison was not injured because his air bag failed to deploy.  Rather, defendants contended that Megison was injured because he was drunk and crashed into the CalTrans attenuator and truck.

Plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury to award Megison over $3,000,000 in economic damages and did not specify a number for non-economic damages. 

After approximately two and a half hours of deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous verdict finding that defendants were not negligent and that the air bag system is not defective. 

Megison v. General Motors Corporation; State of California Department of Transportation, and Ron Mabalot
Case No.:  CV150825
Judge Paul P. Burdick
Santa Cruz County Superior Court

Attorneys for General Motors Corporation:
Vincent Galvin and Mike Madokoro of Bowman and Brooke, San Jose, CA.

Attorneys for State of California Department of Transportation and Ron Mabalot:
Karl Schmidt and Ankush Agarwal

Attorneys for Plaintiffs:
John and Thomas Elliott, Elliott & Elliott, San Jose, CA

Experts appearing at trial for Defense:
Ronald Woolley, Ph.D., reconstruction, Provo, UT
Douglas E. Nunan, air bag design and performance, Kokomo, IN
John Melvin, Ph.D., biomechanics, Detroit, MI

Experts appearing at trial for Plaintiffs:
Robert Lindskog, PE, accident reconstruction
Robert N. Anderson, Ph.D., design failure
Craig T. Fries, reconstruction animation
Richard T. Gill, Ph.D, seat human factors
Christopher Summa, M.D., injuries and causes
Cheryl Bowers, Ph.D., psychologist
Karen Aznavoorian, life care planner
Thomas Yankowski, vocational rehabilitationist
Ann B. Rundquist, economist

Trial Team

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