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Auto Product Liability: 2000 Montero Sport Faulty Seat Belt

Most auto product liability lawyers will admit that a defective auto product can have serious consequences. Scott LaLiberte, a 25-year-old chiropractic student in Florida, was riding in the front passenger seat of a 2000 Mitsubishi Montero Sport when the driver lost control. The Montero rolled over several times on I-95 near Daytona Beach. Scott was killed but the driver walked away with only a minor injury.

The LaLibertes sued Mitsubishi, alleging that the design of the seatbelt, made with 10 inches of slack called a "breakaway loop," was faulty. The extra fabric was sewn into the belt, and the stitches were designed to break and extend the belt after an accidental impact.

In addition to the belt's alleged design flaw, LaLiberte's attorney claimed Scott's seat had reclined during the rollover, ejecting him out of the right rear window. He sustained a fatal head injury, adding that Scott would have survived the car accident but for the seatbelt and reclining seat. LaLiberte's attorney further asserted that had the seat stayed up, Scott would not have been ejected. The evidence from expert witnesses, he insisted, was "undisputed" and confirmed that Scott could have survived the car crash with better equipment.

Mitsubishi's attorney emphasized Scott died after a severe accident that could have resulted in a fatality whether or not there were any vehicle design issues. He insisted that any belt would have led to the same result and that the cause of this death was the violence of the "high-speed" car accident.

LaLiberte's auto product liability attorney countered, insisting there was no evidence the SUV was speeding as Mitsubishi suggested. In contrast, he said expert witnesses estimated the speed was about 44 mph. He also challenged Mitsubishi's conclusion that Scott would have been killed regardless of the belt design. The "survival space" inside the vehicle would have protected Scott if he hadn't been ejected, and the driver's belt did its job.

The lawyer for Mitsubishi devoted most of his closing argument to try to undermine the credibility of plaintiff's experts, saying Mitsubishi's evidence raised doubts about testimony by a plaintiff's expert that the car seat was flawed.

LaLiberte's motor vehicle defect attorney said that Mitsubishi knew there was a problem with the breakaway belt six years before LaLiberte died, and "they never gave Scott a chance to survive the accident." He further asserted that the front passenger seatbelt design in the 2000 Montero Sport was used only in models sold in North America. The same vehicle sold elsewhere in the world under the Nativa brand did not have the breakaway loop design on any seatbelts. Mitsubishi changed the seatbelt design midway through the 2000 model year and eliminated the breakaway loop belt but never recalled the vehicle or took any steps to warn passengers about a problem.

"Evidence would suggest that the controversial breakaway loop seatbelt offered insufficient protection in this case," said nationally recognized defective auto product lawyer, John Bisnar. "One has to wonder why Mitsubishi quietly changed the belt design to match the others in the Montero Sport midway through the 2000 model year."

The LaLiberte's asked a Palm Beach jury for $26 million in damages.

"Seatbelts are supposed to provide a level of protection for occupants in a car accident, not break away and allow people wearing them to be catapulted through windshields," said nationally recognized auto defect lawyer, Brian Chase.

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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Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Any results set forth here were dependent on the facts of that case and the results will differ from case to case. Bisnar Chase serves all of California. In addition, we represent clients in various other states through our affiliations with local law firms. Through the local firm we will be admitted to practice law in their state, pro hac vice.

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