A federal grant to the New Orleans Police Department “pays for overtime for officers who enforce seat-belt laws.” [NOLA.com via Balko]
Most states now require seat belt use by adults riding in the back of the car [USA Today]
In 2006, I wrote:
In May 2001, Cheryl Jane Hale was driving four children to a sleepover in her 1987 Ford Bronco. She didn’t bother to have the children wear their seat belts, so, when she took her eyes off the road to argue with the backseat passengers, and thus drove off the road and flipped the car, 12-year-old Jesse Branham was thrown from the car and suffered brain damage. A jury in Hampton County, South Carolina (the second jury to be impaneled—the first one was dismissed in a mistrial when it was discovered after two weeks of trial that five of the jurors were former clients of Branham’s lawyers) decided that this was only 45% Hale’s fault, held Ford 55% responsible, which puts Ford entirely on the hook for $31 million in damages.
On Monday, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed because of prejudicial closing arguments that relied heavily on inadmissible evidence. More importantly for lawyers practicing in South Carolina, the Court adopted “the risk-utility test with its requirement of showing a feasible alternative design.”
How bad of a judicial hellhole is Hampton County? Though Hale was a co-defendant, she cooperated with the plaintiffs throughout the trial in their case against Ford, even sitting at the plaintiffs’ table; but because the judge classified Hale as a co-defendant, it meant that Hale got half of the peremptory challenges of the “defense.” More from Comer; no press coverage that I’ve seen yet. (cross-posted from Point of Law)
More states are toughening mandatory seat-belt laws in search of cash: for one thing, the federal government bribes them to do so, and that’s aside from the ticket revenue.
We were curious what happened to the case of Rose Marie Munoz v. Ford, the $29 million verdict against an auto manufacturer when a 10-year-old recalled Firestone tire failed and a passenger who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt was ejected. Our original post had provoked a response from the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Roger S. Braugh, Jr.
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Ruben Zamora lost control of his Ford Explorer after a tread-tire separation, causing a rollover; because he was not wearing his seatbelt, he was ejected from the vehicle and suffered brain injuries. (His four passengers suffered only minor injuries.) This is, a LaSalle County, Texas state court jury decided, 65% the fault of Ford, putting them on the hook for $6.5 million in damages. Ford denies responsibility and will appeal. (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Ford Loses $6.5 Million Verdict in Explorer Rollover”, Bloomberg, Feb. 4; “Auto news headlines,” Detroit Free Press, Feb. 5; Nick Sullivan, “Brain-Injured Man Awarded $6.5M in Texas Rollover Case”, Andrews Publications, Feb. 11). Until a 2003 tort reform, Ford would not even have been allowed to introduce evidence that Zamora was not wearing his seat belt.
DaimlerChrysler statement on the suit after the jump; it’s almost scandalous what the press accounts (Feb. 26)left out, but not as scandalous as the verdict. The unbelted Vickie Mohr was killed from blunt force trauma to the back of the head–caused when she was hit by the 245-pound unbelted passenger in the backseat. (The jury found that passenger, Carolyn Jones, responsible for only a small percentage.) Brett McAfee, the 17-year-old driver who killed the two plaintiffs when he fell asleep at the wheel going 45 mph, but was found slightly less than half-responsible by the civil jury, pleaded no contest to vehicular homicide criminal charges. (via Dodgeforum, which has an impressive array of photos of the totalled Durango Caravan).
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