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.
On January 22, 2013, an eight-person Washoe County jury returned a unanimous defense verdict after an 11-day product liability motor vehicle crashworthiness trial.
The trial involved an April 5, 2006 crash on I-80 westbound between Wells and Elko, Nevada. Plaintiff, Melissa Stevens, then age 32, was the driver and only occupant of her 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe sport utility vehicle. Upon encountering rain, snow, hail and slush, plaintiff lost control of her vehicle and left the highway at a speed of approximately 65 to 70 mph. The vehicle's tires furrowed in the decomposed asphalt center median for about 70 feet to a point where the vehicle tripped and began to roll at nearly 55 mph. Plaintiff's Santa Fe rolled four times passenger side leading across the 5 foot deep median, landed on its wheels and then rolled a half revolution back toward the driver's side, coming to rest on its roof.
Plaintiff, who was restrained by the vehicle's three-point driver seat belt, sustained a traumatic brain injury, a C2 odontoid fracture, fractures of her T1, T2 and T3 vertebrae, fractures of her right second and third ribs, pelvic fractures and a left wrist fracture. Plaintiff claimed over $3.0 million in special and non-economic damages, as well as an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
Plaintiff claimed that her injuries were enhanced by alleged defects in the Santa Fe's roof strength and seat belt. She also alleged that the vehicle should have been equipped with rollover activated seat belt pretensioners and side window curtain airbags. Hyundai responded with evidence that the Santa Fe was safe and defect free, fully complied with federal motor vehicle and industry standards and provided state-of-the-art crash protection for 2001 model year vehicles.
Following the verdict, Hyundai's lead counsel, Paul Cereghini, commented:
Because plaintiff pursued only an enhanced injury crashworthiness claim, under Nevada law we could not introduce evidence of the cause of this crash or the plaintiff's comparative fault. Nevertheless, we were able to prove that Ms. Stevens survived a very severe crash because of the exceptionally high level of protection she received from the vehicle. We were also able to show that technologies such as rollover sensitive pretensioners and side curtain airbags were not fully developed for implementation in passenger vehicles in model year 2001 and that it would have been neither possible nor prudent for Hyundai to incorporate this technology in the Santa Fe at that time.
Mr. Cereghini is an Executive Managing Partner for the national product liability defense firm of Bowman and Brooke LLP.
Plaintiff's experts were vehicle design engineer, Mr. Stephen R. Syson of Carpinteria, California; accident reconstructionist, Mr. Robert J. Caldwell of Lafayette, Colorado; biomechanic Dr. Dennis F. Shanahan of Carlsbad, California; orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Keith Swanson of Zephr Cove, Nevada; and economist, Terrance Dinneen, of Reno, Nevada.
Hyundai's experts were vehicle design engineer, Mr. Garry S. Bahling of Metamora, Michigan; crash reconstructionist, Dr. Geoffrey J. Germane of Provo, Utah; biomechanic, Dr. Thomas M. McNish, of San Antonio, Texas; and seat belt design and performance engineer, Michael E. Klima of Novi, Michigan. The jury also heard deposition testimony from multiple Hyundai engineers who were involved in the development of the Santa Fe.
Hyundai's lead counsel was Paul G. Cereghini of Bowman and Brooke LLP, Phoenix, Arizona. Mr. Cereghini's co-counsel were Jeff Warren and Bryan Blehm of Bowman and Brooke, LLP; Eugene J. Wait, Jr. of Wait Law Firm of Reno, Nevada; and Thomas N. Vanderford, Jr. and Mark A. Chirco of Hyundai Motor America.
Plaintiff's lead counsel was C. Tab Turner of Turner & Associates of North Little Rock, Arkansas. Mr. Turner was assisted pre-trial by Jerry M. White of Turner & Associates and Raymond O. Bodiford of Law Offices of Raymond Bodiford, P.A., of Orlando, Florida and at trial by Peter D. Durney of Durney, Brennan & Bradshaw of Reno, Nevada.
Melissa D. Stevens, Plaintiff v. Hyundai Motor Company, a foreign corporation; Hyundai Motor America, a foreign corporation; Lithia Salmir, Inc., dba Lithia Hyundai of Reno, a Nevada corporation, Second Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada, in and for the County of Washoe, Case No. CV08-00346, Judge Scott Freeman presiding.
Paul G. Cereghini is a Bowman and Brooke Executive Managing Partner. He can be reached at 602-643-2400 or at paul.cereghini bowmanandbrooke.com.