A jury has ordered Honda Motor Co. to pay $55.3 million to a Pennsylvania man paralyzed in a 2010 rollover accident in his Acura Integra, when the seat belt failed to keep his head from slamming into the car’s roof.
During the trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that faulty seat belts failed to restrain the man during the rollover. The plaintiff was driving to work in suburban Baltimore when a tire on his Acura Integra blew out and he lost control of the car, The Associated Press (AP) reports. The seat belt did not prevent him from hitting his head on the roof of the car as it rolled over. Before the accident, the plaintiff worked in construction as a glazier, but is now paralyzed from the chest down. The damages the jury awarded include money for pain and suffering, future medical expenses, loss of consortium, and loss of earnings.A spokesman for Acura, which is a division of Honda, denied any problems with the seat belt, and said this is a “proven restraint system used by virtually every manufacturer.” The company plans to appeal. In an emailed statement, Honda spokesman Chris Martin said there is “no vehicle-based defect” that caused the injuries. The injured man’s attorney, however, said Honda knew such an injury was possible based on seat belt testing conducted in 1992, according to the AP.
In 2004, the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen issued a report on rollover accidents. Public Citizen, said that “despite the growing sales of rollover-prone SUVs and pickup trucks, [automakers] have done little to address the three terrible, and inter-related, risks of rollover crashes: roof crush, ejection, and safety belt performance failure.” According to Public Citizen, “Current standard belt systems do not adequately hold the occupant in the seat structure thus permitting lateral (side-to-side) and vertical (up-and-down) movement of an occupant’s head and body during a rollover, which allows contact with the roof or vehicle roof support pillars, or partial ejection of the occupant’s head and body through the side window or door, with devastating results.” Further, the report said, seat belts can “fail to pull slack in quickly enough to prevent occupants from repeatedly slamming their head and bodies against hard . . . surfaces.”