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Thompson v. Nissan

Thompson v. Nissan
Louisiana Federal Court Judge Grants Summary Judgment to Nissan in Fire Case
(April 2006)

A federal judge in New Orleans, Louisiana granted summary judgment on claims that the fuel system in a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder contained design and warnings defects. Leonard Thompson, et al. v Nissan North America, Inc., et al. (E.D. La., No. 03-0172).

On January 20, 2002, Betty Segura was driving a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder with five relatives as passengers. Due to an alleged deflation of the left rear tire, Ms. Segura lost control of the vehicle, which flipped and landed on its roof on a bridge over Lake Pontchartrain. A large amount of fuel spilled from the vehicle’s fuel filler tube, and ignited during the crash. Ms. Segura and three of the passengers perished. The other two passengers survived, but Leonard Thompson sustained third degree burns over a large portion of his body, including disfiguring burns to his head and face.

After the accident, the fire department personnel who responded to the scene observed that the fuel filler door to the vehicle was closed, but inside there was no evidence of a fuel filler cap having been in place prior to the fire. Plaintiffs retained Jerry Wallingford and Thomas Green, who opined that the fuel system of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder was defectively designed. Additionally, plaintiffs’ experts alleged that Nissan failed to provide an adequate warning of the dangers associated with an improperly tightened or misplaced fuel filler cap.

Specifically, plaintiffs’ experts conducted testing to show the amount of fuel which is released through the filler tube when a vehicle is inverted and the gas cap is not in place. They then alleged that Nissan should have implemented alternative designs, which would have prevented the leakage of fuel from the filler tube if the vehicle was inverted and the gas cap was misplaced.

Nissan’s fuel system design expert, Mark Noble, testified that all of the alternative designs suggested by plaintiffs were not in existence at the time of the design of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder. Further, Mr. Noble tested the alternative designs suggested by plaintiffs, and demonstrated that each would have defeated the utility of the vehicle. Specifically, one alternative could not be fitted to the gas tank of the Pathfinder without significant design and structural changes to the vehicle itself. All of the suggested alternative designs prevented proper pressure equalization in the tank during filling the tank at a commercial filling station. Therefore, it was shown that none of the alternative designs allowed the tank to be filled at a commercial filling station, and any attempt to fill the tank produced excessive “spit-back” of fuel out of the tank and onto the customer.

Judge A. J. McNamara, after reviewing the evidence, determined that the alternative designs were not feasible, as required by the Louisiana Product Liability Act. Additionally, the court conducted a cost/benefit analysis, and determined that the utility of the vehicle was so diminished by the alternative designs, that this cost far outweighed the benefit associated with implementing the alternative designs. The court noted that plaintiffs’ experts could produce no other known instance of a vehicle rolling over with a misplaced gas cap, resulting in spillage of fuel out of the fuel filler tube and causing a fire.

With regard to plaintiffs’ warning claims, plaintiffs’ experts failed to provide an alternative warning which, if implemented, would have prevented the accident or plaintiffs’ injuries. Leonard Thompson was the individual who last filled the gas tank. He testified that he replaced and “tightened” the gas cap all the way. Therefore, the court concluded he needed no warning of the dangers associated with failing to tighten or replace the gas cap, as plaintiffs’ experts suggested.

Nissan North America, Inc. was represented by Keith W. McDaniel and Lance B. Williams of McCranie, Sistrunk, Anzelmo, Hardy, McDaniel & Welch in Covington, Louisiana.

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Johnny Williams v. Ford Motor Company

Johnny Williams v. Ford Motor Company
(January 2006)

McCranie Sistrunk Attorneys obtained a defense verdict for Ford Motor Company after a jury trial in Lafourche Parish. The unanimous defense verdict was returned on January 11, 2005 in the case entitled “Johnny Williams v Ford Motor Company” The plaintiff , a ship captain from south Louisiana, had exited his Ford Explorer leaving the engine running and the transmission not fully shifted to park. The vehicle moved in reverse and ran over the plaintiff causing severe orthopedic and eye injuries. Plaintiff claimed the transmission’s design was defective and caused the transmission to jump from park to reverse. Ford claimed plaintiff left his transmission in reverse and was responsible for his own injuries. The jury concluded the transmission was not defective under the Louisiana Products Liability Act after deliberating for one hour.

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Duet v. Ford Motor Company

Duet v. Ford Motor Company
(August 2005)

Lance B. Williams and Keith W. McDaniel obtained a defense verdict after a week long jury trial in Thibodaux, LA. Plaintiff, Melissa Duet, was driving her 2000 Ford F-150 when another vehicle suddenly pulled in front of her. She struck the vehicle, resulting in nearly $15,000 damage to the Ford. Her airbag did not deploy, and she claimed various cervical, lumbar and head trauma resulted from the system’s failure to deploy. She ultimately underwent a discectomy and fusion of the C5-6 vertebrae. Plaintiff alleged that Ford was liable under the Louisiana Product Liability Act for failure to comply with an express warranty, i.e., that the airbag would deploy under similar circumstances. Plaintiff presented a biomechanical expert to support her claim that her injuries were the result of the failure of the airbag to deploy. Those claims were rebutted by Ford’s design and biomechanical experts, who demonstrated that the forces were insufficient for the airbag to deploy and that plaintiff’s injuries were pre-existing and unrelated to the accident. Plaintiff asked for $250,000 in damages. The jury returned a unanimous verdict after two hours of deliberation.

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Gibson v Ford Motor Company

Gibson v Ford Motor Company
(April 2005)

24th JDC, Jefferson Parish, LA. Judge Guidry. McCranie Sistrunk Attorneys represented Ford. A 1996 Lincoln subject to an ignition switch recall caught fire and heavily damaged plaintiff’s home. Also alleged were emotional damages that caused the break up of plaintiff’s marriage. Ford alleged the fire was not caused by the recall due to forensic evidence. Because the vehicle was destroyed by plaintiff’s insurance company, Ford could not offer an alternative theory. After a 2 day bench trial before Judge Guidry a defense verdict for Ford was entered dismissing all claims.

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Windsor Inn v Hyundai Motor America

Windsor Inn v Hyundai Motor America
(April 2005)

US District Court, Western District of LA., Monroe, LA. Judge James. McCranie Sistrunk Attorneys represented Hyundai. A 1999 Hyundai Elantra caught fire and burned down a 40 unit motel. Hyundai was sued and a claim made that a defect in the car’s radio caused the fire. Hyundai alleged the fire was caused by arson. An 8 person jury returned a defense verdict for Hyundai after 40 minutes of deliberation following a one week trial.

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American Central Insurance Company, et al v. Hyundai Motor America

American Central Insurance Company, et al v. Hyundai Motor America
(April 2005)

McCranie Sistrunk Attorneys won a victory in favor of Hyundai Motor America in the case entitled American Central Insurance Company, et al v. Hyundai Motor America in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division.

Plaintiffs asserted a products liability claim against Hyundai after a fire that originated in a 1999 Hyundai Elantra spread to an apartment complex and neighboring hotel. Plaintiffs, the subrogated property insurers and the owners of the apartment complex, claimed that a defect in the car radio caused the fire. Plaintiffs sought in excess of $900,000 in property damage and business losses. An unanimous verdict was returned by the jury and Hyundai Motor America was found to be 0% liable.

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Lennox Industries Inc.

Lennox Industries Inc.
(April 2005)

Thomas P. Anzelmo obtained a ruling from the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal on behalf of Lennox Industries Inc., reversing the trial court’s denial of its Motion for Summary Judgment. The First Circuit found that Lennox was not liable in a case involving substantial personal injury and property damages allegedly related to toxic mold exposure.

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James Lee v. Ford Motor Company

James Lee v. Ford Motor Company
(April 2004)

McCranie Sistrunk Attorneys won a victory in favor of Ford Motor Company in the case entitled James Lee v. Ford Motor Company in Judge Buckley’s court in St. Bernard Parish. The plaintiff was a brain damaged quadriplegic. A $6.5 million dollar verdict was returned by the jury after a 3 week trial and Ford was found to be completely without liability.

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Mary Siether v. Winnebago

Mary Siether v. Winnebago
(March 2004)

McCranie Sistrunk Attorneys won an appeal in the 4th Circuit, which the Louisiana Supreme Court let stand, in favor of Winnebago in the case entitled Mary Siether v. Winnebago. The case involved an accident with Winnebago causing two deaths and a broken neck in a third person. The appeal set out the most comprehensive analysis of the Louisiana Products Liability Act.

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