Success Stories

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Settlement for Client who Suffered Paralysis after Defective Seat Collapsed

Atlee Hall recently settled a case involving an unsafe driver’s seat in a passenger sedan, which collapsed in a rear-impact crash, causing our client to suffer spinal cord paralysis.

Our client, who was on his way to work, was properly wearing his seatbelt and was stopped at a red light when his car was struck from behind by a pick-up truck traveling approximately 25 mph. At impact, the driver’s seat collapsed rearward forcing our client to slide up the seatback striking his upper body on the rear seat. This caused a burst fracture to his lumbar spinal cord, resulting in paralysis.

In a rear impact collision such as this case, the seatback is the primary safety feature to restrain the occupant and keep him or her in the safe confines of the seat. Much like a seatbelt system prevents an occupant from moving forward in a frontal collision, the seat should perform the same function in a rear-impact collision and prevent the occupant from striking the interior of the vehicle or being ejected. Seats and their components suffer a variety of failure modes in rear-impact collisions, including breakage of seat adjusters, breaking of the seatback and supports, or separation of the seat anchorage from the vehicle. In this case, after conducting close analysis and material testing of the vehicle’s driver’s seat, we were able to determine that the recliner teeth in the seating system were sheared and broke away under minimal forces in the impact. This, in turn, caused the seatback to collapse rearward, which resulted in the driver slamming into the rear seat injuring his spinal cord.

Atlee Hall’s efforts in discovery enabled the firm to obtain internal documents from both the seat manufacturer and the vehicle manufacturer concerning their knowledge of continuing problems with the recliner mechanisms in this particular driver’s seat that had been subject to previous recalls.

There was also extensive testing done using a sled test buck with a seat as designed and manufactured in this vehicle, compared with a safer, stronger, designed seat to test the performance. The seat, as designed by this manufacturer, collapsed rearward in the test, while the stronger, safer seat remained upright, holding the dummy within the safe confines of the seat and preventing the injury mechanism.

This case has been one of several defective, unsafe seatback and seat collapse cases handled by the law firm of Atlee Hall, LLP. As a direct result of the weak and defective designs of automobile seats and their components, such as seatbacks, recliner mechanisms, and seat tracks, thousands of otherwise preventable injuries occur each year in rear-impact collisions. In a rear-impact collision, the seat is a critical occupant restraint, which must be strong enough to withstand the forces involved in foreseeable crashes.

The case was highly technical in the field of automotive engineering and medicine, specifically, spinal cord injury causation and caring for individuals who have tragically sustained paralyzing spinal cord injuries. Our firm worked with our client’s treating physicians as well as other spinal cord specialists, neuroradiologists, and life care planners in order to help the defendants and ultimately the jury understand the devastating effects of these types of injuries.

It was also very heartwarming to work with our client and observe his unwavering positivity and never ending will to persevere and fight through his injuries and limitations. Most rewarding was watching him finish the Philadelphia marathon. No doubt, this will be one of many wonderful future accomplishments for him as he continues to be relentless in his pursuits.

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