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.
After a four-week trial and nearly a week of deliberations, a civil jury in downtown Los Angeles returned a complete defense verdict for American Honda Motor Co., Inc., in a $160 million all-terrain vehicle product liability case. Chelsea Rush et al. v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., et al., Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC658021, the Honorable Victor E. Chavez presiding.
The suit arose from a single-vehicle crash that occurred on February 29, 2016, in the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. Plaintiff, who was twenty-four years old and two months pregnant, rented a 2008 Honda TRX250EX ATV to go trail riding with her boyfriend. As she entered a wash on the Crossover Trail, plaintiff suddenly veered off the trail, careened down an embankment, and collided with a cliff wall. She sustained multiple cervical-spine fractures as a result of which she is an incomplete quadriplegic.
Plaintiff alleged that she crashed the rental ATV due to defects in its design and warnings. Specifically, she claimed her right foot came off the ATV’s right footpeg and made contact with the right rear tire, causing her to lose control and veer off the trail. She alleged that the TRX250EX lacks an adequate foot environment to prevent riders’ feet from contacting the rear tires. She also alleged that American Honda failed to adequately warn about the need for riders to keep their feet on the footpegs. Based on these allegations, she pleaded claims of strict liability design defect, negligent design defect, strict liability failure to warn, and negligent failure to warn. She asked the jury to award up to $160 million.
American Honda vigorously defended the TRX250EX’s design and warnings. A Honda engineer testified about the company’s rigorous development history, which included over 20,000 of actual running tests. American Honda’s experts explained that the ATV’s foot environment and labeling satisfy the requirements of the American National Standard for Four Wheel All-Terrain Vehicles, which is now a mandatory federal safety standard. Honda witnesses also testified about the TRX250EX’s state-of-the-art foot environment design and exemplary safety record.
As to plaintiff’s crash, American Honda presented evidence that plaintiff’s foot did not get caught in the ATV’s rear tire and that the crash resulted not from any design or warnings flaw but from improper operation. The jury heard evidence that as plaintiff approached the rough terrain through the wash where the crash occurred, she was in the lead for the first time, was fatigued, had a sore right wrist, and was distracted by concerns about a large rock ahead of her and her companion’s whereabouts behind her. American Honda’s crash reconstructionist explained that these factors, as well as plaintiff’s lack of experience, combined to cause plaintiff to veer off the trail.
American Honda’s lead counsel, Paul G. Cereghini, of the national product liability defense firm Bowman and Brooke LLP commented on the verdict:
The jury’s verdict completely vindicates American Honda’s design and development process and the TRX250EX’s foot environment and warnings. The jury rejected all of plaintiff’s criticisms of American Honda and its product, and their verdict reflects the overwhelming evidence that the TRX250EX is a safe, enjoyable, and defect-free vehicle.
Plaintiff’s trial witnesses included motorcycle consultant Randy Nelson from Escondido, California; biomechanic and design engineer Vijay Gupta, Ph.D., from Los Angeles, California; physical-medicine and rehabilitation physician Sharon Kawai, M.D., from Irvine, California; physical-medicine and rehabilitation physician Suzy Kim, M.D., from Aliso Viejo, California; neurosurgeon Fardad Mobin, M.D., from Beverly Hills, California; and economist Edward Garcia from Pasadena, California.
American Honda’s witnesses included vehicle-design engineer Graeme Fowler, Ph.D., from Phoenix, Arizona; crash reconstructionist Kevin Breen from Fort Myers, Florida; and biomechanic and emergency-medicine physician Elizabeth Raphael, M.D., from Palo Alto, California.
Plaintiff was represented by her lead counsel Robert T. Simon of The Simon Law Group in Hermosa Beach, California, Thomas J. Conroy and Travis Davis also of The Simon Law Group, and Case C. Barnett of Case Barnett Law in Newport Beach, California.
American Honda was represented by its lead counsel, Paul G. Cereghini of Bowman and Brooke in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as William F. Auther of Bowman and Brooke in Phoenix, Arizona, Hannah L. Mohrman of Bowman and Brooke in Los Angeles, California, and Nathan J. Marcusen of Bowman and Brooke in Minneapolis, Minnesota.