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Rare Volvo Crash Trial Results in Unanimous Defense Verdict; Known for Safety, Plaintiff Claimed an Unsafe Roof and Misleading Ads
RENO, NV - After a six-week trial and five hours of deliberation, a Reno, NV federal court jury returned a unanimous defense verdict in favor of Volvo Cars of North America, Inc. on January 24, 2003. Under current Nevada law, all strict liability cases must be unanimous decisions. Plaintiff Patrick Ricci and his wife Patricia claimed their 1986 Volvo 740 GLE sedan had a weak and unsafe roof. On March 17, 2003 the trial court denied plaintiff's motion for a new trial and upheld the jury verdict.
The case resulted from a crash that occurred shortly after 3:00 a.m., July 6, 1997, on Interstate 15 in Clark County, NV. Patrick Ricci and two friends were travelling home after a golf weekend and Amway conference in southern Utah. All three passengers were wearing seatbelts when the Volvo sedan went off the road along a flat, straight and dark stretch of desert highway. As the car veered off the road and onto the median, Ricci oversteered to the right and then overcorrected left, causing the vehicle to overturn and roll three times. Ricci sustained a C-4/C-5 fracture, losing all movement and feeling below his neck. The other two passengers were bruised, with no serious injuries.
Ricci claimed the Volvo sedan was defective and unreasonably dangerous because the roof crushed, causing his neck injury. Ricci claimed the car should have been designed to prevent roof crush in this reasonably foreseeable rollover accident. Expert witnesses for Ricci, Robert Caldwell, Stephen Syson, Campbell Laird, and Dr. Joseph Burton, all testified that the car could have been designed to prevent this injury. Arguing that a rollover is a benign event, Ricci asserted the roof structure should have been designed so the strength of the roof was four times greater than the weight of the vehicle. The current federal standards dictate the roof strength be one and one-half times greater than the vehicle weight. Ricci and his experts asserted that Volvo had one of the lowest roof strength to weight ratios in the industry, despite Volvo's claim of being a safety leader. In addition, Ricci and his experts presented testimony that Volvo's advertising was deceptive and misleading by painting a picture that the car could withstand substantial loads placed upon the roof.
During cross examination of plaintiff's experts, Volvo put on evidence that plaintiff's experts were unfamiliar with the details of the design of the 1986 740 roof structure, the vehicle exceeded the Federal standard by a significant margin and the accident involved multiple impacts to the roof, such that no 1986 production car would have performed any better in this severe rollover accident. During its case, Volvo called expert witnesses Terry Thomas and Dr. Barry Myers, to further rebut the allegations. These experts testified as to the severity of this accident, including the violence of a rollover accident. The jury heard testimony that rather than the neck injury occurring as a result of roof crush, the neck injury occurred as a result of a dive into the ground. Analogous to a diver who receives a neck injury when diving into a shallow pool, an occupant in a rollover accident can receive a neck injury prior to any roof crush when the occupant dives into the ground. During this phenomenon, the head stops, but the torso of the occupant continues toward the ground, fracturing the neck.
Plaintiff's attorney had suggested to the jury an award of $10-12 million.
Patrick A. Ricci and Patricia Ricci, husband and wife, vs. Volvo Cars of North America, Inc.
United States District Court, District of Nevada
Judge Edward C. Reed, Jr.
Case No. CV-N-00-088-ECR (RAM)
Plaintiffs were represented by Larry E. Coben, Esq., of the law firm of Coben & Associates, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Peter Chase Neumann, Esq., of Reno, Nevada.
Volvo was represented by David W. Graves, Jr., Esq. of Bowman and Brooke LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Greg W. Marsh, Esq., of the Law Offices of Greg W. Marsh, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Experts for the Plaintiff: Stephen R, Syson, Syson-Hille & Associates, Goleta, CA; Dr. Joseph Burton, Burton & Associates, Alpharetta, GA; Dr. Robert Caldwell, Ponderosa Engineering, LaFayette, CO; and Dr. Campbell Laird, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
Experts for the Defense: Dr. Barry Myers, Duke University, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Durham, NC and Terry Thomas, Thomas Engineering, Inc., Phoenix, AZ.