The Pennsylvania Superior Court found no grounds for a new trial in a case where jurors in Philadelphia awarded an injury victim $55.3 million in damages. Carlos Martinez, the plaintiff, was driving to work in his Acura Integra in 2010 when he had a tire blow out. The vehicle spun out of control and the car rolled over and his head hit the roof in a violent manner causing him to be paralyzed. At the time he was wearing his safety belt; however, the belt did not properly restrain him to his seat. Martinez filed a personal injury claim against Honda, who owns the Acura luxury brand of vehicles that they launched in 1986.
The case was filed claiming that the reason for the seriousness of the injury was that the seat belts for these vehicles were defective. Further evidence suggested that Honda was aware of the problem; however, they took no effort to remedy it. Honda had identified that the seat belt performed poorly in their 1992 vehicle rollover tests. In 2004, a public advocacy coalition known as Public Citizen reported the seat belts were severely inadequate and likely to have tragic results in rollover occurrences. The $55 million jury award consisted of $25 million for noneconomic damages, $14 million for medical treatment, over $700,000 for lost wages and his wife also received $15 million for loss of consortium.
The jury verdict was based on the flawed design of the seat belt, when another style of design existed that was capable of delivering superior safety results. Another determination was that Honda failed to warn others of the problem and that the problems were the cause for the plaintiff’s significant injury. Shortly after, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made a key ruling in the case of Tincher v. Omega Flex Inc. that resulted in some changes in interpretation of the state’s personal injury laws. Honda felt these results may benefit them and cited some of the following issues in their appeal:
- That the findings in Tincher should afford them a new trial due to:
- A failure by the court to instruct the jury that the Appellees needed to prove the product was unreasonably hazardous
- Honda was barred from submitting key evidence relating to market standards
- That the court improperly instructed the jury regarding crashworthiness
- Errors associated with the warning-defect claim
- The award for damages was overly excessive and several others.
The court found that the Tincher decision would not change the outcome of the Honda case, stating that the jury was instructed in a proper manner. Judge Dubrow stated that the court used their discretion properly and the jury was not subjected to prejudice, error or corrupted in a manner impacting the damage awards. The judge felt that the plaintiff brought more than adequate evidence documenting injuries incurred and the lasting results that the family must now endure.