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.
FORT MYERS, FLORIDA: On December 21, 2010, after a three-and-a-half-week trial and an hour and a half of deliberations, a jury in Fort Myers, Florida returned a unanimous defense verdict for Kia in a products liability / crashworthiness case involving the death of a young boy. The crash at issue occurred on Mother's Day in 2008. Karina Duarte was heading to her parents house along a rural highway in her 2005 Spectra hatchback. Ms. Duarte's two sons were seated in the rear. About an hour into her drive, Ms Duarte lost control, leaving the right side of the road at close to 70 mph. She slid sideways into an embankment, ultimately crashing into a guardrail and overturning. After the accident, emergency responders found Ms. Duarte's six year old son pinned between the roof of the vehicle and the rear seatback headrest. Plaintiffs alleged a defect in the roof of the 2005 Spectra, essentially claiming there was a lack of reinforcement in the rear of the roof that allowed the roof to "buckle" above the rear-seated child. The child seated in the left rear died of positional asphyxia shortly after the accident.
The defense argued that the roof of the 2005 Spectra is a solid and safe structural design. Kia's developmental testing showed that the Spectra's roof at its front has nearly double the strength required by federal safety standards. In response to attacks from plaintiffs' experts that the rear of the roof was weaker than the front, Kia's testing done for the lawsuit showed that the rear of the roof was even stronger than the front, and that, overall, the roof structure can withstand a peak load of almost 19,000 pounds in a flat platen test pressing straight down on the roof.
The defense also presented evidence to show that the deceased child was not wearing his seatbelt when the crash began, which allowed him to be thrown around inside the car and wedged up between the top of his seatback and the deformed roof. The defense also argued that the unbelted child would likely have sustained fatal injuries in this crash even without any roof crush, because he would have been thrown out the rear hatch window and into the path of the vehicle had the deforming roof not caught him against his seatback.
The plaintiffs' accident reconstruction expert witness claimed there were no major roof-to-ground impacts in this crash. However, the defense reconstruction was radically different, showing that the car hit the guardrail head-on, then pitched forward, end-over-end, causing it to slam down violently onto its roof.
The following expert witnesses testified on the technical issues for the Kia defendants: Kevin Breen (Fort Myers, Florida) accident reconstruction; Garry Bahling (Metamora, Michigan) roof design; Dr. Gary Fowler (Gardena, California) metallurgy; Dr. Elizabeth Raphael (Palo Alto, California) biomechanics; and, John Hinger (Irvine, California) seatbelts and restraints.
Plaintiffs' expert witnesses were Bryant Buchner (Tallahassee, Florida) accident reconstruction; John Marcosky (Wixom, Michigan) roof design; Richard McSwain (Pensacola, Florida) metallurgy; Dr. John Lenox (San Antonio, Texas) biomechanics; and, Gary Whitman (Penns Park, Pennsylvania) seatbelts and restraints.
The Kia defendants were represented by David R. Kelly and Scott B. Paxton of Bowman and Brooke, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Brian J. Baggot, Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, Tampa, Florida.
Plaintiffs were represented by Joseph R. Reiter, Lytal & Reiter, West Palm Beach, Florida and Yvette M. Trelles, Trelles Law, P.A., West Palm Beach, Florida.
Karina Duarte, et al. vs. Kia Motors Corp., et al., Case No.: 08-CA-026481, Circuit Court, Lee County, Florida