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Unanimous Verdict in Favor of Ford in Seatbelt Case

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Feb 06, 2013

Lewis v. Ford

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 May 2, 1997, 9-year old Kamari Lewis was riding in the front seat of his mother's 1995 Mazda B-3000 pickup truck in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, when their truck collided head-on with another vehicle.  Lewis struck his head on the dash and sustained a concussion.  Lewis and his mother reported to the police and the hospital ER that he was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the collision.  Lewis claimed to suffer from traumatic brain injury.  Now 24 years old, Lewis took his case to trial this week in St. Thomas, V.I. federal district court against Ford Motor Company (manufacturer) and Mazda North American Operations (seller).  Testifying for Lewis was Neurologist, Dr. James D. Nelson, who testified that Lewis suffers from headaches, memory problems and a sleep disorder, hypersomnia.

Plaintiff claimed the right front seatbelt failed to restrain him and it was defective.  Lewis also retained James R. Ipser, Ph.D. a University of Florida physics professor, to testify that the seatbelt was defective and that it failed to meet FMVSS requirements, but Ipser was excluded under Daubert.  Nonetheless, the court allowed Lewis to proceed to trial under the product liability theory of the Restatement (Third) of Torts; Product Liability, Section 3 – which allows claims based upon "Circumstantial Evidence Supporting Inference of Product Defect," otherwise known as the "malfunction doctrine."  Defendants argued that the malfunction doctrine is not applicable to this case, but their motions to dismiss were denied.

On February 6, 2013, a nine-person jury in federal district court returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Mazda and Ford.

Experts testifying for defendants were, Kevin Breen, Engineering Systems, Inc., Fort Myers, Florida (accident reconstruction), Michael Klima, Design Research Engineering, Novi, Michigan (seatbelt design and performance) and Dr. Harry Smith,  Biodynamic Research Corporation, San Antonio, Texas (biomechanics and injury causation). 

Representing Ford and Mazda were David R. Kelly and Michael R. Carey, Bowman and Brooke LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Bruce P. Bennett, Hunter Cole & Bennett, Christiansted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands.

Representing Kamari Lewis was Joseph Caines, Law Offices of Joseph Caines, P.C., St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Trial Judge was Chief Judge Curtis Gomez.

Kamari Lewis, Plaintiff vs. Mazda Motor of America, Inc. d/b/a Mazda North American Operations, and Ford Motor Company, Defendants, Civil Case No. 3:09-cv-00099, United States District Court of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Thomas and St. John.

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