Nissan denied new trial, $1.8 M jury verdict upheld

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Aug. 13, 2009, 9:00am

MARSHALL - With its request for a new trial denied, Nissan Motor Co. will pay $1.85 million in damages a jury awarded to a woman involved in a three-vehicle collision.

Rebecca Perdue filed the original motor vehicle product liability lawsuit against Nissan on Dec. 17, 2007, in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

According to the suit, Perdue was driving her 1995 Nissan Pathfinder when a vehicle that had collided with another vehicle then struck her Nissan.

She argued she was properly wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident but was injured when the Nissan failed to protect her.

Perdue alleged that the Pathfinder was "not reasonably crashworthy" but was "unreasonably dangerous and defective," as demonstrated through its "poor crash test performance, stiff crash pulse, performance in real world crashes, and high death rate."

She claimed the Nissan failed to provide an adequate restraint design or an advanced restraint system necessary for vehicles with rigid and stiff structures to achieve "ride-down," which is the "reduction in restraint loading and risk of occupant injury."

Perdue alleged Nissan has been involved in the development of advanced restraints systems for decades but decided not to include an advanced restraint design in her 1995 Pathfinder.

"To eliminate the consequences of the dangerously stiff and rigid vehicle, an airbag and/or other advanced safety restraint must be used because the restraint system is incomplete and ineffective without such features," the suit asserted.

The plaintiff also alleged that Nissan investigated the use of front-end structure modification to improve the crashworthiness of its vehicles but did not incorporate an appropriate design to the vehicle at issue.

Perdue claimed that if her 1995 Nissan Pathfinder had contained a properly designed advanced restraint system including an airbag, she would not have been injured in the three-car collision.

After a four-day trial, the jury agreed with the plaintiff, awarded $1.85 million in damages, and found that there were no responsible third parties.

After U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis approved the final judgment on the jury verdict, Nissan filed a motion for new trial or alternatively for judgment as a matter of law. Nissan argued that the jury verdict was against the "great weight of the evidence."

The defendant also requested a new trial arguing that the court improperly commented on evidence and that the plaintiffs made improper jury arguments.

The court denied Nissan's requests, stating that the defendant failed to challenge the sufficiency of evidence during the trial and failed to reference any legal authority supporting its claims.

In the denied request, Nissan argued that the jury should have apportioned a percentage of damage upon a third responsible party, the drivers of the two other vehicles involved in the collision.

Judge Davis wrote that the jury was properly asked whether Perdue's injuries were caused by the negligence of others and the jury found the actions of others did not cause the plaintiff's injuries.

Dallas attorney E. Todd Tracy of the Tracy Firm was lead attorney for Perdue.

Jeffrey Patterson of Hartline, Dacus, Barger, Dreyer & Kern LLP in Dallas was attorney in charge for Nissan.

Case No. 2:07cv00546

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