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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Nissan Verdict Halved for Plus-Sized Crash Victim

(CN) - Nissan must only pay half of a $5 million jury award to a 240-pound accident victim who claimed that her car's seat belts were not designed for someone of her size, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled.

Amanda Maddox was a passenger in a car driven by her then-husband, Dwayne, when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver.

The Maddoxes were wearing their seat belts, and the airbags in their 2001 Nissan Pathfinder worked properly.

Dwayne Maddox, who weighed 170 pounds, suffered a fractured foot.

However, Amanda Maddox, who was 70 pounds heavier than her husband, had to be removed from the car with hydraulic equipment and air-lifted to the hospital.

Amanda broke her ribs, hip and vertebrae in the accident while also suffering nerve damage.

In addition, she suffered a stroke, a torn bowel and an abdominal rupture at the site of a gastric bypass surgery that she underwent years earlier.

In all, Amanda Maddox was hospitalized for 139 days and underwent 75 surgeries.

She sued the estate of the drunk driver, who was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, and was killed instantly in the accident.

She also sued Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Nissan North America Inc., alleging that the passenger seat and seat-belt system were designed defectively.

Amanda alleged that Nissan had designed its system to score a five-star crash test rating instead of making sure it could protect larger passengers.

The trial court ruled that Nissan was 70 percent at fault and the drunk driver was 30 percent at fault. The jury ordered Nissan to pay $2.6 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict but was divided on the issue of punitive damages.

The case moved on to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which struck down the punitive damages award in a decision written by Justice Bill Cunningham.

He noted that the jury was instructed that punitive damages should be awarded if Nissan "acted in a grossly negligent manner and with a reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others."

"Even viewing the evidence in Amanda's favor, she failed to present proof that could establish such a degree of belief in the minds of reasonable jurors that would justify a punitive damages award," Cunningham wrote.

He added that Nissan's Pathfinder passed the toughest frontal crash tests available at the time it was produced.

"While those tests may have been performed using body weight metrics that no longer reflect our increasingly portly population," Cunningham stated, "Nissan nevertheless satisfied and exceeded the regulatory duty imposed upon it."

Justice David Allen Barber dissented from his colleagues, noting that the government did not mandate using crash test dummies weighing over 171 pounds.

"However, (Amanda's expert) clarified that it is standard industry practice to conduct seatbelt tests for the foreseeable range of occupants weighing at the 5th (female) and 95th (male) percentiles," he wrote. "Nissan admitted to disposing of its developmental test reports."

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