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$24.7M Los Angeles, California Seatback Collapse Judgment Awarded to Woman with Permanent Spinal Cord Injury

December 31, 1969

Johnson Controls has been ordered to pay Jaklin Romine $24.7 million in California auto products liability damages. Romine sustained serious spinal cord injuries and head injuries that left her permanently paralyzed from the chest down in 2006 when the vehicle of the car she was riding in collapsed during a Los Angeles County rear-end collision. Johnson Controls is the company legally responsible for designing, making, and selling the car seat.

The catastrophic collision occurred at a Pasadena intersection on October 21, 2006. During the rear-end crash, the seat Jaklin was using broke and collapsed backwards, which caused her body to slide back under the seatbelt and her head to hit the rear passenger seat.

Jaklin's Los Angeles auto products liability lawyers contended that there was no reason for why the car seat should have broken in a collision where the vehicle that was moving was going at speeds of up to 30 mph.

Seatback Collapse
Unfortunately, the lack of tougher safety standards for car seats makes it easy for manufacturers to make products that are not strong enough to withstand the force of a collision. Considering that common seatback collapse injuries can include crush injuries, spinal cord injuries, paralysis, and head injuries, more needs to be done not just be the federal government, but also by manufacturers.

Right now, car seats must only fulfill a strength requirement and they don't have to fulfill any crash testing standard. Common causes of seatback collapse include poor design, weak structure, and parts malfunction.

The failure of a car seat to stay upright and keep a passenger occupant in place can cause the person to get thrown from the vehicle or into the people sitting in the rear seats. A seat that collapses can also cause injuries to the person riding right behind. If it is the rear seat that collapses, then it is the person sitting in that seat that could get hurt. Also, A driver whose seat collapses may find it impossible to stay in control of the vehicle, which could further exacerbate the types of injuries that can result. One must also note that a vehicle occupant's seatbelt cannot properly restrain him/her if the seat collapses.

Auto Products Liability
In addition to the seat manufacturer, an auto manufacturer can also be held liable for placing defective or faulty car seats in a vehicle. For example, last year, Hyundai was ordered to pay $1.8 million in seatback collapse damages to the family of a teenager who died in a car crash. Her loved ones contend that the seat she was in shouldn't have been able to recline past 45 degrees while she was in it and that she might have otherwise survived the rollover crash that occurred when her younger sister overcorrected the SUV after falling asleep at the wheel. In 2009, a Ford Motor Corp. settled the seatback collapse lawsuit filed by one woman, who is now a quadriplegic, for more than $16 million. She contends that not only was the rear seat latch defective, but that the center lap seat belt (it wasn't accompanied by a shoulder belt) was not able to provide her with the restraint she needed when the SUV she was in was rear-ended. The impact of the crash pushed her forward into the center console and the rear of the front seat. The back seat then fell on her when its latch broke.

LA Woman Awarded $24M after Crash Collapses Her Car Seat, MyFoxLA, August 18, 2011

Teen's death in Big Country brings $1.8M judgment against Hyundai, Reporter News, April 30, 2010

Related Web Resources:

Johnson Controls

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Spinal Cord Injuries

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