$12.5 Million Jury Verdict against Toyota in Lap Belt Case

Toyota Motor Corp. must pay a $12.5 million verdict in California after a jury ruled that a victim in an SUV crash was severely injured due to a poorly designed lap belt in the center rear seat of a 1996 Toyota 4Runner.

The victim, Chelsie Hill, who was 17 years old at the time of the 2010 crash in southern California, was a passenger in the center rear seat of the 4Runner when the SUV smashed into a tree, according to an Oct. 21 story in The Los Angeles Times.  The seat where Hill was sitting was the only one of five positions in the vehicle that had no shoulder belt as well as a lap belt.

Following the trial, the Monterey County Superior Court jury found that “the design of the middle seat belt in the rear row of a Toyota 4Runner was responsible for injuries that made her a paraplegic,” the paper reported. “Hill’s body was almost cut in half by the lap belt when the Toyota’s driver lost control and hit a tree.”

A neurosurgeon who treated Hill after she was brought in to a hospital testified that her injuries were so bad that her body “was held together by skin” and that he thought she would die in the emergency room, the story reported.

Toyota argued in court that the victim was injured in the crash because of the severity of the impact and because she was not wearing the belt properly, rather than her injuries being due to a flawed belt design, the paper reported.

The driver of the 4Runner and three other passengers suffered only minor injuries in the crash, the Times reported. The driver and two passengers were using their shoulder and lap belts, while the remaining passenger was not wearing a seat belt or shoulder belt. The driver was later convicted of DUI and spent three years in prison, the paper reported.

Hill’s attorney argued that had the 4Runner been equipped with a center rear seat shoulder belt, she would have not suffered her severe injuries, the paper reported. “Toyota had the technology, and chose not to use it, putting the least safe and least expensive restraint system in that seat,” the attorney said.

Starting in 2005, new federal safety regulations required rear center seat lap-shoulder belts in all new vehicles, according to the report.

Eventually, Hill, a former high school dancer, became a television reality show star when she later joined the cast of the Sundance Channel reality television series “Push Girls,” about the lives of young paralyzed women, the story reported.

These kinds of injury cases occur every day when innocent victims are hurt or killed in vehicle crashes through no fault of their own due to the actions, inattentiveness or indifference of others. That’s why it is critical to have a legal team on your side that uncovers every fact to bolster your case and maximize your damage award.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in a vehicle incident or accident anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-(866) 352-4572 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.