Plaintiff: Sheila Ray-Hayes, as Parent and Natural Guardian of
Amanda K Ray
Defendant: Nissan Motor Corporation
Court: Wayne County Superior Court, Wayne County, IN
Docket No: 89D02-9807-CT-018
Date of Settlement: April 17, 2003
Robert M.N. Palmer, The Law Offices of Robert M.N. Palmer, P.C., Springfield, MO
Thomas Doehrman, Conour-Doehrman-Chamberlain, Indianapolis, IN
Wayne Kreuscher, Barnes & Thornburg, Indianapolis, IN
Bard Borkon, Bowman & Brooke, Minneapolis, MN
In the late morning of October 2, 1997, Plaintiff Amanda Ray and her fiancé Ryan Heinamann were driving northbound on Sugar Grove Road near Economy Indiana. Ryan was driving Amanda's 1991 Nissan Sentra and Amanda was riding in the right front passenger seat. Amanda was utilizing the motorized shoulder harness, and had fastened the separate manual lap belt. She had the right front passenger seatback fully or nearly fully reclined and, according to Heinamann, was sleeping. Mr. Heinamann apparently dozed or fell asleep, and the car drifted a few feet to the right and ultimately struck a low bridge abutment/culvert. According to plaintiff's accident reconstructionist, the delta-V of the crash was approximately 35-40mph with a principal direction of force virtually head-on, between 12 o'clock and 12:30. During the crash sequence, Amanda “submarined” her restraints, sustaining catastrophic injuries which have permanently and profoundly disabled her. According to Plaintiff's biomechanical expert, Dr. Joseph Burton, except for the reclined seat, Amanda would not have received the catastrophic injuries that she did. Since she was fully reclined in the seat—reclined as Nissan designed the seat—her shoulder harness and manual lap belt did not provide her with proper restraint. In fact, due to the reclined angle, the belt straps were grossly out of position initially, so that her body loaded them dynamically in a very hazardous way, causing her catastrophic injuries. In the same accident, the driver Ryan Heinamann (who was also shoulder and lap belted, but whose seatback was upright) only received injuries to his legs, injuries from which has recovered.
Amanda Ray suffered severe brain injury, including multiple areas of brain hemorrhage with contusions in both left and right frontal lobes. There was also significant damage to right and left temporal lobes, left parietal, left thalamus and basal ganglia. Her cognitive functioning is at the level of a child in early grade school, with dense amnesia so that she will require supervised living arrangements for the rest of her life. According to Plaintiff's expert Life Care Plan, projected costs for Amanda's future care were $9.4 million. Plaintiff's expert economist calculated her future lost earnings as $1.7 - $2.5 million.
Theory of Action:
Plaintiff's allegations against Nissan were negligence, strict liability - design defect, regarding the design of the seatback to recline, resulting in the compromise of the vehicle's restraints. Plaintiff also alleged strict product liability - failure to adequately and effectively warn of the dangers of reclining the seatback while the vehicle was in motion.
Plaintiffs' Liability Experts:
Restraints/Seat: David Biss, Rockville, MD
Biomechanics: Dr. Joseph Burton, Alpharetta, GA
Reconstruction: Steven Meyer, Goleta, CA
Warnings: Dr. Kenneth Laughery, Houston, TX
Restraints: Terry Thomas
Biomechanics: Robert Piziali
Reconstruction: Ronald Woolley
Warnings: Alan Dorris, Paul Frantz
Verdict/Settlement: The case settled for a confidential amount on 4/17/03