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.
PHOENIX, AZ (March 4, 2014)—Following a three-week trial, a Maricopa County jury agreed on February 28 that a seatbelt buckle manufactured by Indiana Mills and Manufacturing, Inc. ("IMMI") was not defective in its design and that IMMI was not responsible for the traumatic brain injury sustained by Phoenix Fire Captain Crystal Rezzonico. Plaintiff claimed the design of the 2001 IMMI seatbelt buckle installed in a City of Phoenix fire truck was defective and unreasonably dangerous because it allowed contaminants to build up inside the buckle preventing it from releasing a partially inserted latch plate. At trial, the plaintiff and her attorneys asked the jury for almost $5.5 million.
On August 10, 2009, the fire truck was responding to a fire call with both its lights and sirens running when the fire truck entered an intersection against a red light and was t-boned by a Chevrolet Monte Carlo traveling at 56 mph. The Monte Carlo struck the right front, Captain's door of the fire truck, causing the door to open and Captain Rezzonico to be ejected. As a result, Captain Rezzonico sustained a significant, traumatic brain injury with permanent cognitive deficits and a partial seizure disorder.
While Captain Rezzonico has no memory of the crash, she testified that it was her habit to always wear her seatbelt in the fire truck. Plaintiff's seatbelt expert, Michael Markushewski, opined that Captain Rezzonico had partially inserted her latch plate into the buckle at the time of the crash, and that she had failed to discover the condition because the plastic press button of the buckle was contaminated. Markushewski contended that this contamination created friction forces between the button and latch plate such that the latch plate remained in the buckle and did not release as required by FMVSS 209. Plaintiff's accident reconstruction and biomechanical expert, Dr. Mark Shattuck, also testified that it was his opinion that Captain Rezzonico was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the crash, and that there was evidence of injury to her right elbow that would be consistent with entanglement with the seatbelt as she was ejected from the truck.
IMMI contended that the IMMI buckle was a safe and reasonable design that fully complied with FMVSS 209, that the buckle was not unusually prone to contamination or false latching, and that the evidence demonstrated that Captain Rezzonico was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of the crash.
IMMI presented testimony from its Director of Engineering, Jim, Chinni, that the 2001 IMMI buckle was a safe, state-of-the-art design that fully complied with FMVSS 209 and has an excellent track record in the field. Mr. Chinni also testified that by design, the plastic press button that Plaintiff claimed was contaminated and creating high friction forces with the latch plate, does not contact the latch plate, and therefore, Plaintiff's defect theory was incorrect. IMMI also presented expert testimony from Eddie Cooper that the 2001 IMMI buckle was not defective or unreasonably dangerous, that Plaintiff's defect theory of contamination on the press button was wrong because a CT scan of the subject buckle proved that not only were there no visible contaminants on the press button, but the press button was not even in contact with the latch plate to create the alleged "sticky" condition. And finally, Mr. Cooper testified that it was his opinion that Captain Rezzonico was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of the crash..
Plaintiff was represented by Daniel Dell'Osso of the Brandi Law Firm in San Francisco, CA and Raymond Norris of Gallagher & Kennedy, P.A., Phoenix, AZ.
IMMI was represented by Randall Riggs of Frost, Brown and Todd, Indianapolis, IN and Jeffrey Warren of Bowman and Brooke, Phoenix, AZ.