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Tucson jury agrees Nissan not liable in fire case
Tucson, AZ - On Monday, June 18, 2007, a Pima County, Arizona, Superior Court jury found that the fuel injection system in a 1987 Nissan Maxima was not defective in design, rejecting claims that Nissan was responsible for the damages sustained by plaintiff in a 2003 fire that destroyed plaintiff's home. The jury in Armed Forces Insurance Exchange/Robinson v. Nissan North America deliberated for four hours before rendering an 8-1 verdict for the Nissan.
On September 11, 2003 in mid-afternoon, plaintiff Norman Robinson returned to his Tucson, Arizona home after filling his 1987 Nissan Maxima with gas. He parked his car in the garage when it started to smoke underneath the hood. He got into his car and tried to back the Maxima out of the garage. He was only able to make it about three feet when flames began to shoot out from underneath the car. Mr. Robinson got out of the car safely, but his garage caught on fire and was destroyed as well as parts of the home. There were no personal injuries.
Plaintiff called Richard Schulze P.E. as his primary fire investigator and design expert. He testified that the return fuel hose on the #6 injector developed a leak allowing gasoline to spray onto the exhaust system cross-over pipe and ignite. He testified that the design of the engine exhaust system exposed the fuel hoses to excessive radiant heat which caused the fuel hoses to degrade prematurely and leak. This failure of the fuel hose allowed gas to come in contact with the hot surface of the exhaust cross-over pipe which caused the auto-ignition of the gasoline. He further testified that a service campaign existed for the replacement of the fuel hoses and injectors on the subject vehicle and 43 other similar incidents show that the failure of these hoses or injectors could cause a fire. He testified that Nissan should have used more durable hoses or shielded the exhaust system components better.
Nissan called Ralph Newell as its primary fire cause and origin expert. Mr. Newell testified that the theory that the fire started at the fuel injector hose was not supported by physical evidence. Combustibles on the injector body, as well as on the adjacent accelerator wire showed these were artifacts of the fire, not the origin. Also, there were substantial combustibles still present around the fuel injectors where the Plaintiff said gasoline sprayed. Mr. Newell explained that the other combustibles would have been consumed if gasoline sprayed on them and the fire started in this vicinity. Moreover, plaintiff's expert's supporting statement and belief that the gasoline ignited on a hot surface is also incorrect. Gasoline will not reach auto-ignition temperature on a hot manifold as Nissan's tests have demonstrated. Mr. Newell demonstrated on an actual Nissan vehicle by spraying oil, gasoline and various other fluids on an exhaust manifold. Everything ignited except for gasoline.
Nissan argued that there was no defect and that the fuel injection system was state-of-the-art. Instead, the fire was caused by a service and maintenance issue for which Nissan was not responsible. After the fire, the parties drained the crankcase and found that it was overfilled by 1.1 quarts. The overfilled crankcase caused engine oil to be expelled onto the hot exhaust manifold and ignite.
Armed Forces Insurance Exchange/Robinson v. Nissan North America
Case No.: C2005-3161
Judge John Kelly
Pima County Superior Court
Attorneys for Nissan:
William F. Auther and Paul R. Lee of Bowman and Brooke, Phoenix, AZ
Attorneys for Plaintiffs:
Peter Akmajian of Chandler & Udall, Tucson, AZ
Witnesses appearing at trial for Defense:
Ralph Newell, fire cause and origin, Atlanta, GA
Raymond J. Hughes, vehicle design and performance, Los Angeles, CA
Experts appearing at trial for Plaintiffs:
Jeff Corey, fire cause and origin, Tucson AZ
Richard Schultze, fire investigation and design, Dallas, TX