(CN) – Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. cannot blame a driver’s marijuana use for the rollover crash of a minivan that left a passenger paraplegic, a federal judge ruled.
Raheel Malik was the front passenger in a 2000 Dodge Caravan traveling east on I-64 in Illinois in the early evening of Aug. 25, 2009.
In a complaint filed in 2010, Malik said nothing unusual occurred on the journey until he heard of loud “pop.”
The driver, nonparty Abdul Rahman, later testified was driving at about 60 mph – 5 mph under the speed limit – at the time, that traffic was light, and that the road was straight, level, and free of debris.
But when the “pop” led Rahman to unbuckle his seatbelt to look back and see what had happened. It was then that the minivan veered off the roadway, flipped, and rolled over several times, the complaint said.
Malik was ejected from the vehicle, suffering injuries that left him paraplegic.
According to court documents, the “pop” Malik heard was caused by the detachment of tread and the top belt of the left rear tire – allegedly a complete surprise to Rahman, who said he inspected his tires the day before the accident and that they appeared to be in good condition.
Malik sued Cooper Tire for products liability in Middlesex County, N.J. circuit court, and the case was removed to the Newark Federal Court on December Dec. 8, 2010.
At trial, Cooper claimed that Rahman smoked marijuana the night before the accident, which impaired his driving and his ability to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.
Malik argued Rahman’s drug use the night before the crash was irrelevant, moved for partial summary judgment so as to bar Cooper from seeking to apportion liability to the driver.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Walls partially granted the motion May 26.
“Because of the significant amount of time between the marijuana use and the accident, the lack of information about the quantity consumed, the difficulty of measuring marijuana impairment, and the absence of any observation of Rahman’s reflexes or cognition immediately before or after the accident, Drs. [Gary] Wimbish [Ph.D.] and [Robert] DuPont [M.D.] cannot estimate with a high degree of scientific certainty what impact Rahman’s marijuana smoking had on his driving,” the unpublished ruling states.
Walls later added: “According to studies cited by Dr. Wimbish, smoking marijuana can create impairment of ‘coordination, tracking, perception, vigilance and performance in complex motor skills’ for 24 hours. According to Rahman’s testimony, the accident would have been near the end of this 24 hour period.”
The court also rejected the contention of Cooper’s accident reconstructionist Todd Hoover that “Rahman caused the crash by turning the wheel improperly” due to his prior marijuana use.
But it also said Hoover can testify as the case moves forward to demonstrate Rahman’s negligence, according to the ruling.
“The record here does not demonstrate that Rahman’s driving would ‘elicit but one response’ from a jury,” Walls wrote. “Mr. Hoover ties Rahman’s driving to the crash, agreeing that, ‘even though there was a tread separation, the accident itself, the actual physical accident itself, happened because Mr. Rahman did not properly react to the situation.'”
The judge later added: “A jury in this case would decide what a reasonable person would have done in this emergency situation, and then compare Rahman’s actions to the standard of care. Because Mr. Hoover’s testimony would help the jury make this comparison, and to decide whether Rahman’s actions were a proximate cause of the accident, Federal Rule of Evidence 401 does not bar the testimony’s admission.”
Cooper, which reportedly ships tires to more than 155 countries, reaped $663.2 million in sales in the first quarter of 2015, having netted $3.42 billion in sales in the full year 2014.
Courthouse News is awaiting comment from Cooper at this time.
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