A man left quadriplegic following a rollover accident he alleged could have been prevented had the car been equipped with electronic stability control has lost his $50 million product liability lawsuit.
In Kim v. Toyota, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District, Division Seven, affirmed a jury’s decision not to hold the automaker liable for the man’s injuries, finding the trial court did not err in allowing evidence that the auto industry’s custom at the time of manufacture was NOT to include electronic stability control.
Plaintiff had alternatively argued that he should be allowed to provide special jury instructions that would outline federal standards and limit the influence of the industry custom evidence. Trial judge had rejected that request, and the appeals court found it was not abuse of discretion to do so.
It’s a devastating outcome for a person who has already lost so much. Our Miami car accident lawyers know it’s important to review what happened in these types of cases to glean information to formulate future legal strategy.
According to court records in the case, the case stemmed from a crash that occurred in April 2010. Plaintiff was operating his 2005 Tundra truck in California. The road was slick with rain, and he began descending a curve traveling about 45- to- 50-mph. Suddenly, a vehicle traveling the opposite direction crossed partially over the center line.
In order to avoid collision, plaintiff swerved his truck onto the shoulder. However, when he steered left to return the vehicle to the roadway, his truck turned too far left. The tires slipped. He steered right again and lost control. The vehicle rolled onto its roof before finally landing upright in an embankment. Firefighters had to use special equipment to carefully extract him from the vehicle. The victim was left quadriplegic, as he’d sustained serious injury to his neck and spinal cord.
Plaintiffs (the driver and his wife) filed a lawsuit against a number of manufacturing defects, alleging the accident occurred because the vehicle he drove was not equipped with electronic stability control, also sometimes referred to as electronic stability program or dynamic stability control. This is a feature that improves a vehicle’s stability by detecting and reducing loss of traction/ skidding. It essentially helps drivers to maintain control of the vehicle during extreme steering maneuvers. It’s especially useful in sport utility vehicles, trucks and Jeeps, which are more prone to rollover. While it now comes standard with many newer vehicles, at the time this truck was manufactured, it was not industry practice to offer the feature standard.
Plaintiffs alleged manufacturer’s failure to install stability control amounted to a defect.
One defense that was raised was the fact the curve where plaintiff crashed had a speed limit of 30 mph. Plaintiff had admitted he was traveling over that, even in poor road conditions. This type of contributory negligence doesn’t prohibit a claim either in California or Florida, but it can reduce the overall damages awarded.
Still, plaintiffs asserted the vehicle was not crash-worthy. What truly damaged the case, however, was evidence of the industry standard, which has changed since this crash (and, one could argue, because of crashes like this). The appeals court ruled it was not error for the trial court to allow this evidence.
Other potential claims in a case like this would be a lawsuit against the state for faulty road design or maintenance or against the driver of the other vehicle who crossed the center line.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Kim v. Toyota, Jan. 19, 2016, California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District, Division Seven
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