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Product Liability: 1999 S420 Mercedes Airbag Failure

Obtaining the counsel of an experienced product liability attorney can be critically important when dealing with defective auto products. In 1998, Elwood Kaplan, a 75 year old retiree was driving his 1999 S420 Mercedes outside of Naples, Florida when a Dodge Durango struck the Mercedes on the driver's door at 25 miles per hour. Regrettably, the Mercedes' driver's door airbag failed to deploy. As a result, Mr. Kaplan's left arm was pushed outside the driver's door window and torn off just below the shoulder by the Durango's impact.

The Kaplan's filed suit against Mercedes and against the driver of the Durango. The uninsured motorist carrier settled for $1,800,000. In the case against Mercedes, Kaplan's attorneys produced expert witnesses who determined that the airbag should have deployed in this car accident. Had it deployed, they argued, Mr. Kaplan's arm would have remained inside the car and he would have suffered no serious injury in the car crash.

Mercedes vigorously defended their position, insisting that the airbag is not designed to deploy in this car collision. They argued that Durango did not strike the Kaplan's Mercedes hard enough and, even if it had, it would not have kept Mr. Kaplan's arm inside the car.

"Side impact car collisions at intersections represent approximately 22% of all major car crashes when people are killed or seriously injured," said nationally recognized product liability lawyer John Bisnar. "Most side or curtain airbags are designed to activate instantaneously, deploying from the top of the door rails above the side window. They are supposed to protect occupants during side impacts. Putting unreasonable limits on the speed of the impact or specific body parts to be protected is absurd."

Although the Kaplan's Mercedes was equipped with a "black box," which records accident-related data, Mercedes claimed they had no ability to print out the data and the case went to trial without it.

"This is another example of the "hide-and-seek" tactics some car makers resort to when black box data is involved," noted John Bisnar. "Mercedes" claim of an inability to print out black box data flies in the face of what a black box is specifically designed to do."

Mercedes' only settlement offer prior to trial was an offer of judgment for $200. After a two-week trial, the jury returned a verdict for $2,250,000. It found that the side airbag system in the Kaplan's brand new car was defective and that the airbag should have deployed in this car accident. This was the first successful verdict in the country against Mercedes involving a side airbag. Mercedes appealed and the appellate court affirmed the verdict. Mr. and Mrs. Kaplan subsequently collected the full amount of the jury's award, which is rare in a motor vehicle defect case.

"Elwood Kaplan's decision to hold Mercedes accountable is something we should all applaud," said nationally recognized defective product attorney, Brian Chase. "Mr. Kaplan's loss of limb represents an on-going physical and emotional injury that will last the rest of his life. Automakers clearly have the upper hand with enormous testing and financial resources at their disposal. Designing an air bag that prevents injuries in such low-speed side impacts clearly should not present an insurmountable task for a huge car maker like Mercedes. Our hope is that these lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against car makers will convince them to improve their vehicles and make them safer for consumers."

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as the result of a defective auto part or vehicle, contact the experienced California auto products liability attorneys at Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation. We will use our extensive knowledge and resources to achieve the best possible results for you and your family.

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