Case details

Center seat’s lack of shoulder restraint caused paralysis: suit





Result type

Not present

head, upper torso
On Feb. 21, 2010, plaintiff Chelsie Hill, 17, a high school student, was a rear-center passenger in a 1996 Toyota 4Runner operated by her friend, Aaron Corn. The Toyota was carrying three other passengers, including Chelsie, and was traveling on Skyline Drive in Monterey. At approximately 3 a.m., Corn lost control of his vehicle, went down a steep embankment, and crashed head-on into a tree. Chelsie, who was wearing a lap belt, suffered a flexion distraction injury in which her upper torso flexed over her waist and her head struck the center console. She was rendered a T10 paraplegic. Chelsie sued Toyota Motor Corp., Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. Chelsie alleged that the defendants defectively designed of the vehicle and that the defendants’ were negligent for failing to warn of the dangers from sitting in the rear-center of the vehicle and for failing to retrofit the vehicle was a proper shoulder restraint. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the subject 1996 Toyota 4Runner was defectively designed, in that the rear-center seat was equipped with only a lap belt and no shoulder restraint. Counsel also argued that the seat back/cushion was defectively designed, in that if failed during the collision and was part of the seat’s restraint system. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that the 4Runner model previously included a warning about the risk of jackknife , but that the warning was removed prior to the release of the subject 1996 model. The plaintiff’s liability expert opined that had the rear-center seat been equipped with a shoulder restraint, Chelsie would not have suffered the jackknife injury and subsequent paralysis, as proven by the other passengers in the vehicle who were equipped with shoulder restraints and who suffered only minor . Defense counsel argued that, as a result of Chelsie’s intoxication, which was undisputed, Chelsie was not wearing the lap belt properly. Counsel contended that photographs of the lap belt immediately after the accident, as well as Chelsie’s injury — specifically her L3 Chance fracture and abdominal bruising that extended up her right flank — indicated that she was not properly belted. Defense counsel noted that the plaintiff’s biomechanical expert agreed that the belt was fully extended at the time of the accident and that Hill’s supported the scenario that she was wearing a fully extended belt at the time of the accident. Defense counsel also noted that at the moment of impact, Hill flew forward, unrestrained, into the fully extended lap belt and sustained the L3 Chance fracture. Thus, defense counsel argued that the driver, Corn, was at fault for the accident for driving under the influence. (Corn was found guilty for a driving under the influence of alcohol and served a seven-year sentence before being released on probation.), Chelsie suffered a flexion distraction injury in which her upper torso flexed over her waist and her head struck the center console. As a result, she suffered an L3 Chance fracture. The plaintiff’s experts described Chelsie’s injury as a severe jackknife injury, which was described as being similar to a decapitation at the waist, in which Chelsie’s skin and flesh were the only things holding her upper torso intact. Chelsie was subsequently taken by ambulance to an emergency room, but she was rendered a T10 paraplegic and is now confined to a wheelchair. Chelsie suffered further complications related to her paralysis, including the development of osteoporosis and three MRSA infections. Despite her complications and paraplegic state, she claimed she has turned the traumatic life event into something positive by becoming an advocate for paralysis and drunk driving. Chelsie also created the Walk and Roll Foundation, a dancing troupe for people with spinal cord , and she authored a book and appeared on the reality TV show “Push Girls.” Chelsie sought recovery of $615,000 in past medical costs and $7.2 million in future life care costs (for her life expectancy of 61 years). She also sought recovery of $760,000 in future loss of earning capacity, and $4 million in damages for her pain and suffering.
Superior Court of Monterey County, Monterey, CA

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