By: Joseph Smith
The Virginia Supreme Court has reversed a $14 million jury verdict against
Hyundai Motor Company, holding that an expert should not have been allowed
to testify that the placement of an airbag sensor made the company Tiburon
model unreasonably dangerous.
The case arose after an accident in which a teenager suffered serious brain
injuries when the 2008 Hyundai Tiburon he was driving collided with a
tree after he lost control of the vehicle struck two snow banks and a
bale of hay. The vehicle collided with the tree driver's side first,
but the side airbag did not deploy.
The teen's parents filed suit against Hyundai alleging that company
decision to place the side airbag sensor beneath the driver's seat,
instead of on the pillar of the vehicle prevented it from functioning.
The case was tried twice, first in 2012 resulting in a jury unable to
reach a verdict, and again in 2013, in which the jury awarded the teen
over $14 million. The plaintiff's mechanical engineering expert testified
that car was defectively designed based on the location of the side airbag.
His opinion was based on the results of a location study Hyundai performed
in 1999 and his own calculations to determine if the airbag would have
deployed if the sensor had been placed in the specific location of the
B-pillar that Hyundai had tested in 1999.
On appeal the Court reversed the trial court's decision to allow the
expert testimony and sided with Hyundai's argument that the expert's
testimony lacked sufficient foundation. The Court held that the expert's
opinion was based on his assumption that the side airbag would have deployed
if the sensor was at his proposed location without performing any analysis
or calculations to support the assumption and disregarding the factors
he acknowledged as bearing upon the sensor location determination. A dissenting
justice, while still reversing the trial court's decision on other
grounds, argued that the majority improperly focused on the expert's
preferred location of the side airbag sensor, even though he did not base
his conclusions on the preferred location. He argued that by doing so,
the majority failed to view the expert's testimony in the light most
favorable to the party that prevailed at the trial court.
The Virginia Supreme Court's decision is an unfortunate one for the
teenager and his family. It is also an important reminder of the significant
role expert testimony plays in any products liability case. The attorneys
at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., understand the vital
function experts perform in these types of cases and have countless years
of experience working to ensure that the best possible expert is used
in each case and properly prepared to testify. If you or someone you love
has been injured as a result of a defective product, do not hesitate to
call for a free consultation.