Audi Seat-Back Failure Results in $124M Injury Verdict

A jury in Texas has awarded $124 million in damages to the family of a young boy who was severely and permanently injured when their Audi was rear-ended and the driver’s seat collapsed backward. The head of the driver, the boy’s father, struck the boy, causing permanent brain damage, partial paralysis and blindness.¬†carinterior

Jurors determined the German automaker was 55 percent liable for the boy’s injuries, while the driver who rear-ended the family was 25¬†percent responsible. The boy’s father was deemed 20 percent liable. That means Audi will have to pay 55 percent of the total damages.

The amount figured in $32.5 million for future physical pain and mental anguish, as well as $65 million for future physical impairment. 

The family had reportedly been stopped for a school bus when a driver behind them failed to stop. Upon impact, the driver’s seat collapsed and fell backward, a defect that Audi reportedly was aware of and yet had not acted upon because, the manufacturer reasoned, the rear passenger’s knees would serve to absorb the force of the impact.

But part of the problem is that, first of all, a child’s knees aren’t large enough to absorb the force of much of anything. Even if that was the only area of the body affected in such a traffic accident, that assumes it is acceptable for a rear seat passenger to suffer serious injury to his or her lower extremities. It is not, which is why plaintiffs in Rivera v. Cordova, Audi AG et al. alleged gross negligence.

According to the complaint, the auto maker at no point performed a knee-bolster test before it started production of the cars. It also never used a child dummy in the back seat to make sure the knees of a child could safely support a collapsing seat back. Further, the complaint alleged this “knee reliance standard” varied from any other auto manufacturer, as no others deemed this an acceptable safety standard.

The boy’s younger brother, who had been seated next to him at the time of the crash, walked away completely unscathed, indicating the bulk of the problem was not the crash (though that was certainly a factor) but rather the seat defect.

Jurors likely ascertained the father was partially responsible because he was not wearing a seat belt and the boy was not in a booster seat or strapped into a seat belt in the back seat. This so-called “seat belt defense” is popular among car accident defendants, though the good news is that both North Carolina and South Carolina have outright rejected it.

The boy’s mother, later speaking to reporters, said her son today, as an 11-year-old four years after the crash, is unable to tell her he loves her.

An investigation by CBS News revealed Audi had known about this problem for a decade and that more than 100 people had been either seriously injured or killed as a result of these seat back failures since 1989. The vast majority of victims in those cases have been children.

The boy’s mother hopes that the steep verdict sends a message to auto manufacturers. She is also advocating for the updating of FMVSS 207, the federal standard that governs seats in cars used in the U.S. It has not been updated in five decades.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Audi Loses $124 Million Texas Verdict Over Seat-Back Failure, March 3, 2015, By Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg

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Nodak Mutual Ins. Co. v. Koller – Beware “Step-Down” Car Insurance Clause, March 9, 2016, Charlotte Product Defect Lawyer

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