Kia not Liable in Deadly Optima Crash in Tenn.

     (CN) – A mother cannot sue Kia Motors for her daughter’s death in a crash in which her accelerator jammed, causing to her Optima to collide with two other cars, a fence, a tree and a house, before it finally came to a stop, the 11th Circuit ruled.
     In May 2005, Allene Hughes was leaving a Waffle House parking lot in Chattanooga, Tenn., when she realized she had gone out the wrong way and was traveling against oncoming traffic. As she attempted to rectify the situation at the nearest intersection, her Optima was struck by a Mack truck pulling a loaded fuel tanker trailer.
     The collision jammed her accelerator pedal, so fuel continued to push her Kia Optima forward, pinballing the car about, so that it collided with two parked cars, a fence, a tree, three metal posts, and a flag pole, before ultimately stopping when it hit a house.
     Hughes was declared dead at the hospital of traumatic brain trauma.
     Her mother, Patricia Hughes, sued Kia in Georgia Superior Court, alleging the car company’s failure to equip the Optima with a fuel shut-off switch led to her daughter’s death.
     However, Hughes’ expert medical witness testified that he could not conclusively determine whether her daughter’s brain injury was caused by the impact with the Mack truck, or by one of the subsequent collisions.
     He opined that it was “more likely than not that” Hughes’ fatal injury occurred after the initial accident, because he believed the Optima’s side airbag “offered her significant protection in that Mack truck impact.”
     However, the front air bag in the Optima had deployed in a previous accident and was never replaced. Therefore, no reasonable juror could conclude that the lack of a shut-off switch caused Hughes’ injuries, a federal judge ruled.
     The 11th Circuit affirmed the decision for Kia Friday.
     “Burton was unable to rule out the Mack truck impact as the cause of Allene’s fatal injury. He admitted that he lacked sufficient information about the Optima’s impacts with the Toyota Corolla and Geo Tracker to determine whether these impacts caused or did not cause the injury,” Judge Gerald Tjoflat said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     “And although he concluded that the impacts with the curbs had the potential to cause Allene to impact a structure inside the car and thereby cause her fatal injury, he could not opine that the curb impacts actually caused a collision with an interior structure and the fatal injury. Nor could Burton say that the impact with the house was sufficient to cause the fatal injury. Nevertheless, he asserted that Allene would not have sustained the fatal injury had the Optima been equipped with a shut-off switch,” Tjoflat wrote.
     The trial judge rightly questioned the reliability of this self-serving conclusion, and excluded Burton’s testimony because the “leap from data to opinion was too great,” the Atlanta-based appeals court found.
     Because Hughes cannot prove that her daughter did not receive her fatal injury in the collision with the Mack truck, the car’s lack of a shut-off switch may not have been involved with her death at all, according to the judgment.
     “She has not shown that the Mack truck impact did not cause Allene’s fatal injury, nor has she shown that the lack of a shut-off switch (as opposed to some other cause, such as the removed driver’s front airbag) was an actual cause of the fatal injury. As such, Kia is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Hughes failed to create a genuine issue of material fact with respect to actual causation,” Tjoflat wrote. (Parentheses in original.)

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