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Malam v. Toyota

Apr 20, 2006


Los Angeles Jury Concludes Toyota's Passive Restraint System Not Defective

LOS ANGELES, CA - On Thursday, April 20, 2006, after nearly three weeks of trial and less than three hours of deliberation, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found that Toyota's 1988 Camry passive restraint system was not defective and that it met consumer safety expectations in the case of Malam v. Toyota.  Mr. and Mrs. Malam asked the jury for an award in excess of $18 million.

The case arose out of a June 18, 2003 accident at the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles involving Mohamed and Sara Malam in their 1988 Toyota Camry.  The Malams' Camry was struck nearly head-on by a 1991 Toyota 4Runner as Mohammed Malam attempted a left turn.  Mr. Malam sustained a hip fracture that required surgical reduction followed by replacement, and Mrs. Malam sustained comminuted fractures of both femurs, a tibia fracture, rib fractures, and neck fractures at C2, C6 and C7.  The driver of the 4Runner and a passenger in the Malam vehicle sustained only minor injuries.

Prior to trial, the plaintiffs claimed the 1988 Camry's passive restraint system -- which consists of a motorized shoulder belt, manual lap belt, knee bolster, and ramped seat -- was defective in design for failing to incorporate an integrated/passive lap belt.  Toyota filed a motion in limine arguing that integrated lap belt claims are preempted by Federal law, which the court granted shortly before trial.  As a result, plaintiffs changed their design defect claims and alleged that the torso belt's upper and lower anchor positions were improper; that the Camry lacked an adequately ramped front seat; and that there was inadequate padding and improper location of the knee bolster.  In particular, Plaintiffs' design expert declared that the torso belt's lower anchor position was too far forward and that the upper anchorage should have been adjustable to fit short persons, such as Mrs. Malam.  Additionally, plaintiff's expert indicated that the seat pan did not incorporate much, if any, ramp, and that the knee bolster was not positioned closed enough to the plaintiffs' knees and should have had more padding.

The defense countered with their expert affirming that the motorized torso belt anchorage locations were appropriately placed to accommodate persons the size of 5% females through 95% males.  Moreover, the non-detachable nature of the torso belt increased the system's usage rate and thereby improved the overall safety benefits of the restraint system.  The defense demonstrated the restraint system, knee bolster and seat pan were all state-of-the-art at the time the Malams' Camry was designed and manufactured.  The defense further maintained throughout trial that the extent of the Malams' injuries was due to the severity of the crash and the Malams' pre-existing medical conditions. 

After 13 trial days and less than three hours of deliberation, the jury of 8 men and 4 women returned a defense verdict.  The jury found that the Camry's automatic restraint system was not defectively designed, both because the system met consumer expectations and because the benefits of the restraint system outweighed its risks, therefore rendering a verdict in favor of Toyota.  In the closing argument, plaintiffs' attorney had asked the jury to award the Malams' $18-$21 million.

Mohamed C. Malam and Sara Bibi Malam vs. Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
Judge James C. Chalfant
Superior Court for the State of California, Central District, Los Angeles, CA
Case No. BC320608

Attorneys for Defense:
David W. Graves, Jr. and Bard D. Borkon of Bowman and Brooke's Minneapolis office and Mike H. Madokoro of Bowman and Brooke's Los Angeles office

Attorneys for Plaintiff:
Garo Mardirossian of Mardirossian & Associates, and Charles B. O'Reilly, O'Reilly & Hobart, Marina Del Rey, CA

Experts appearing at trial for Defense:
Donald E. Struble, Ph.D., accident reconstruction, Struble-Welsh Engineering, Inc., San Luis Obispo, CA; Robert J. Gratzinger, M.S., M.B.A., restraint system design, Gratzinger Engineering & Consulting, Inc., Irvine, CA; Dennis C. Schneider, Ph.D., biomechanic/mechanism of injury, Biokinetic Engineering, Inc., Los Osos, CA

Experts appearing at trial for Plaintiff:
Steven J. Bellino, accident reconstruction, California Traffic Specialists, Huntington Beach, CA; Gerald Rosenbluth, M.A., restraint system design, Automotive Consulting Services, Inc., Tempe, AZ; Peter A. Orner, M.D., Ph.D., biomechanic/mechanism of injury, Internal Medicine & Biomechanics of Injury, Escondido, CA

Trial Team

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