Automotive design expert witness advises on a case involving a man who was severely injured after being ejected from a vehicle while riding with his seat reclined. Plaintiff was a front seat passenger on a long trip. He decided to have a nap and reclined his seat. The driver lost control of the vehicle, and it rolled over. The plaintiff, although buckled in, was thrown out the passenger window during the rollover. He suffered severe orthopedic, internal and brain injuries.
He alleges the vehicle manufacturer knew about the risk posed by the reclining seat but did not alter its design or warn occupants of the danger. He filed claims for design defect, manufacturing defect and failure to warn. He asserts that seat’s ability to recline beyond 45 degrees rendered the seatbelt system useless. The seat also violates the principles of crashworthiness, he argues.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What caused the passenger’s ejection?
- 2. How could it have been prevented?
- 3. Was there a better vehicle design?
Expert Witness Response
The testing performed by the defendant manufacturer and others demonstrates the dangers of a reclined seat in frontal and rear impacts. The testing, as presented in this case, is sufficient to identify the dangers of reclined seats in motor vehicles in general. Any other reasonable manufacturer would have run these types of tests to determine the threshold of seatback recline angle.
It is my professional opinion that the plaintiff’s ejection would have been prevented by the use of either an all-belts-to-seat system (ABTS) or a seatback that would not recline beyond 45 degrees.
During my work experience I have gained extensive detailed knowledge of virtually all of the systems, sub-systems, and components that make up a modern motor vehicle. I have also gained a full understanding of how all of these systems work together, and especially how they work (or don’t work) together in accidents and rollovers. Specific to this case, I have an understanding of how the safety belt, seat, and the structure work together in a rollover accident. None of these systems can be analyzed in a vacuum; rather, they must be considered together.
The testing, as presented in this case, is sufficient to identify the dangers of reclined seats in motor vehicles in general. Any other reasonable manufacturer would have run these types of tests to determine the threshold of seatback recline angle.
The automotive design expert witness is an automotive engineer with more than 30 years of experience.