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Beck-Ruiz v. Kia

California
Sep 22, 2003

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.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA JURY CLEARS KIA IN SUV ROLLOVER CASE

No defect found in crashworthiness or rollover stability of 1997 Sportage

SANTA ROSA, CA - On September 22, 2003, following a six-week trial and 3 ½ hours of deliberations, a unanimous Santa Rosa jury cleared Kia Motors America, Inc. of any responsibility or liability regarding a rollover crash involving a 1997 Sportage SUV that resulted in the death of Marissa Beck.  The wrongful death lawsuit, brought on behalf of Ms. Beck’s 6-year-old son, alleged that inadequate rollover stability and insufficient crashworthiness had contributed to Ms. Beck’s fatal injuries.  Plaintiff’s attorneys asked the jury to award millions of dollars in damages.

The lawsuit stemmed from a September 1997 crash initiated when a heavy duty truck-trailer changed lanes on northbound Highway 101 and struck the left-rear bumper of the plaintiff’s Kia Sportage traveling about 60 mph near Petaluma, California.  The Sportage went out of control, slid into the center median, started to roll over as it struck a median guardrail, and ultimately overturned one and a half times.  Ms. Beck, the 21-year-old left rear passenger, was found partially ejected and died at scene of a fatal head injury.  Her then three-month-old son, in the right rear seat, and the front seat occupants of the vehicle survived the crash and sustained relatively minor injuries. 

Kia defense attorneys Paul Cereghini and Mark Berry maintained throughout the trial that the crash was too severe for Beck to survive and that the Kia Sportage is a safe vehicle.

During trial, Cereghini demonstrated to the jury that when the driver’s side of the Sportage came down on top of the guardrail, the force of the impact broke the seatback latch for the left rear seat and fatally injured the Beck in the same instant.  Plaintiff attorneys had claimed her seat back broke first, allowing her to be partially ejected through her side window where her head was crushed between the roof and road.  In addition, Cereghini and his team were able to prove that the vehicle did not begin to roll until it plowed 34 feet through the grass covered median before hitting the guardrail -- not on the paved roadway where the plaintiffs had claimed. 

Case name: Beck-Ruiz v. Kia

Case no.:  SCBV-219965

Judge:  Laurence K. Sawyer

Court:  Superior Court for the State of California, County of Sonoma

Attorneys for the plaintiffs: Barbara Bozman-Moss of Bozman-Moss & Watson in Santa Rosa, CA, J. Kevin King and Peter King of Cline, King & King, P.C. in Columbus, Indiana.

Attorneys for the defense: Paul Cereghini and Mark Berry from Bowman and Brooke’s Phoenix and Los Angeles offices.

Experts for the plaintiffs:  Keith Friedman (accident reconstruction and seat back design);  Wade Allen (SUV stability); Dr. Y. King Liu (biomechanics); and Ed Heitzman, (stability testing) 

Experts for the defense: Don Tandy (stability); Dr. Gary Heydinger (computer stability modeling); Andrew Levitt (accident reconstruction and seat back design); Dr. Charles Hatsell (biomechanics); and Robert Gratzinger (crashworthiness design).

Trial Team

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