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Honda and Seatbelt Manufacturer Takata Win Defense Verdict in Case Alleging Defective Seatbelt

Amarillo, TX
Apr 10, 2009

Price v. Honda and Takata


AMARILLO, TEXAS (April 10, 2009)—After nearly two weeks of trial and after three hours of deliberation, a jury in Amarillo, Texas returned a verdict in favor of Honda and seatbelt manufacturer, Takata, in a case where plaintiff claimed her seatbelt had come unlatched during a violent rollover crash involving a 2000 Honda Civic. The seatbelts in the vehicle were manufactured by Takata. Plaintiff claimed that her seatbelt had been worn, but, due to an alleged design defect which allowed the buckle to be "partially engaged" (not fully latched), she was not restrained by the belt and was ejected during the rollover crash. The Takata seatbelt buckle at issue was the TK-52/A7 buckle - a broadly accepted seatbelt buckle used since the mid-1980's by many U.S. and Japanese automobile manufacturers. Evidence was presented showing that millions of TK-52/A7 seatbelt buckles have been installed in vehicles sold in the U.S.

This single-vehicle rollover accident happened during daylight, on a two-lane paved country road near Lazbuddie, Texas. The police found that plaintiff, Tracy Price, was traveling at an unsafe speed, lost control and drove off the roadway, rolling over and striking a utility pole. Price suffered paralyzing injuries when she was ejected and hit the ground during the rollover. EMT personnel testified at trial that Price, who was awake and alert when they arrived on the scene, told them she was not wearing her seatbelt. Two other witnesses who testified for plaintiff said Price told them she was wearing her seatbelt.

Plaintiff sued the Honda and Takata defendants claiming the driver's seatbelt buckle had been improperly designed and tested, and that it could partially engage, leaving the driver improperly buckled during her accident.

At trial, Takata engineer, Hideo Kitamura, and defense expert, Michael Klima, testified that the TK-52 buckle, like many other seatbelt buckles, can be "partially engaged" only by artful intentional manipulation-not something people do when they buckle up in actual use. The defendants offered evidence showing that this buckle has no problem with partial engagement in actual use, it meets all applicable Safety Standards, and the seatbelt system at issue is safe and proper as designated by Takata and as utilized by Honda in the 2000 Civic. Robert Hellmuth, former Director of the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, provided testimony showing that independent government-authorized testing labs had tested the buckles many times, and that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard testing done on the Takata buckles was observed and accepted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Plaintiff's counsel asked the jury to award up to $30 million in damages, plus an unspecified amount for punitive damages. However, the jury found that Tracy Price was not wearing her seatbelt, and judgment on the verdict was entered in favor of the Honda and Takata defendants.

Expert witnesses for plaintiff were: Anne Stodola, M.S., P.E., of Boulder Colorado on accident reconstruction; William Broadhead of Santa Barbara, California on design and performance of the seatbelt system; Matthew Mecham, M.S., P.E., of Salt Lake City, Utah on biomechanics; Richard George, M.D., neurosurgeon of Lubbock, Texas on Ms. Price's treatment; and, Harold Bialsky of Yonkers, N.Y. on life care needs and costs.

Defense experts were: Juan Herrera, Ph.D., of El Paso, Texas on accident reconstruction; Thomas McNish, M.D., MPH of San Antonio, Texas on injury causation and biomechanics; Michael Klima of Novi, Michigan on design and performance of the seatbelt system; Robert Hellmuth of Potomac, Maryland, on seatbelt testing pursuant to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; and, J. Rod McCutcheon of San Antonio, Texas on the effects of methamphetamine usage and withdrawal symptoms from methamphetamine usage.

The plaintiff was represented by James P. Lyle, Esq. of Law Offices of James P. Lyle, P.C., Albuquerque, New Mexico, Richard F. Rowley II, of The Rowley Law Firm, P.C., Clovis, New Mexico and Johnny K. Merritt, Esq. of Irwin, Merritt, Hogue, Price & Carthe, P.C. of Amarillo, Texas.

The Honda defendants were represented by Jeffrey S. Hawkins and Grant T. McFarland of Prichard, Hawkins, McFarland & Young, L.L.P., San Antonio, Texas. The Takata defendants were represented by David Kelly of Bowman and Brooke LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thomas C. Riney of Riney & Mayfield LLP, Amarillo, Texas was counsel for the Honda and Takata defendants.

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