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Seatback Failure Car Accident Client Story

Stephanie Collins
Seatback Failure During Car Accident - Confidential Settlement with Ford Motor Company

There is no closure when a mother loses her child. A mother never gets over a child's death. On the contrary, a child's passing leaves a void in her life - an emptiness that is only filled by memories.

Stephanie Collins lives that sad reality every day of her life. She blames Ford Motor Co. for it and for good reason.

July 14, 2000 started like any other day for Stephanie and her daughter, Crystal, who was just a month away from her eighth birthday. Crystal was sitting in the rear passenger seat of Stephanie's Ford Escort, right behind her mother in the front passenger seat. Stephanie's mom, Crystal's grandmother, was driving. When an ambulance approached, she pulled over to the side of the road to make way for the ambulance.

It was then that a Honda Civic rear-ended their Escort at less than thirty miles per hour.

"We barely felt any impact from the crash," Stephanie recalls. "It was just a fender bender. Even the tail lights were not broken."

She then looked over in the back seat to see if Crystal was fine. "I expected her to be OK," Stephanie said. "But she wasn't."

What Stephanie saw at that instant will remain frozen in her memory forever. Crystal's bright blue eyes were black and opened wide. Her normally healthy-complexioned skin was pale grey in color. Stephanie knew right away that there was something seriously wrong with Crystal.

The little girl was rushed to the local hospital where doctors who examined her determined that she was bleeding internally and had a collapsed lung. The Escort's front seat seatback, with Stephanie sitting in it, slammed back and into Crystal's chest due to the forces of the rear impact. The blow to Crystal's chest was fatal. A day after the accident, Crystal was brain-dead. Her single mom, who was planning her daughter's birthday party the day before, was now considering donating her daughter's organs.

Crystal's death had a horrific impact on Stephanie. It immediately sprang her to action. The grieving process has not yet been completed. In fact, seven years later, Stephanie believes she is yet to mourn her daughter's death. Stephanie has been spending her time elsewhere. She has taken on a bigger challenge - fighting a corporate giant, an auto maker who she believes is criminally responsible for her daughter's death.

"Ford knows that the seats they put in their cars are no better than lawn chairs," she says. "But they continued to make them and put them in their cars. They deny that there's anything wrong with those seatbacks, even today, after so many people, including Crystal, have died because of those defective seatbacks."

Stephanie hired an attorney right away. She had a hunch about the car and the defective seat and she longed to prove her point. But the initial attorney she hired wouldn't hear it.

"All he looked for was to get the insurance money from the other driver, quick and easy," she said. "He wasn't looking at the real problem or what I was interested in."

Stephanie could not accept that this was a "freak accident." She bought a new computer and started to research the topic on the Internet. With every passing day she learned more and more and became convinced that the real issue here was a defective product, a defective seat - not a rear-end collision. But her attorney refused to go after Ford.

It was then that she contacted Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. Talking to John Bisnar and Brian Chase, Stephanie felt for the first time that she was being listened to. Here were two attorneys who were willing to give her a chance and were even willing to fight for her.

"It cost them a lot of money, but Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys did real crash testing to prove my point," Stephanie said. "They did for me what others wouldn't even think about doing. They were prepared to tell my story and prove it."

Stephanie, through Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, entered into mediation with Ford in an attempt to settle her claims as is required by California's Superior Courts before obtaining a trial date. Brian Chase did something not many attorneys would do, Stephanie said. "He knew I was well-informed and he let me handle part of our presentation," she said. "To this day, I very much appreciate what John and Brian did for me."

John and Brian were different from any other attorney she dealt with or talked to, Stephanie said. "Most attorneys are telling you what you can't do instead of looking for a way to accomplish what you really want to do," she said. "This was very important to me. I'm a fighter, but even I understood I was trying to do the impossible. But I wasn't about to give up on my daughter and most lawyers didn't want to hear that."

John and Brian, on the other hand, helped her fight harder, Stephanie says. "By conducting the crash testing, they showed me exactly what happened to Crystal and that made me angry and fight harder," she said. "I really wanted to go after Ford. My daughter's death was on their hands."

Stephanie ended up settling with Ford for an undisclosed amount during the trial of her case against Ford. She is still hoping that Ford Motor Co. will have its day of reckoning. "I was comfortable settling with them because of what I discovered in the process," she says. "I didn't go after the money. No one can put a dollar amount on a single mother losing her only child."

With the money she got from settling with Ford, Stephanie purchased a big rig where she loads all the evidence she gathered against the auto maker and travels the country, telling her story, in hopes of making a difference. She filed a criminal complaint with the state Attorney General against Ford. The complaint was rejected the first time and the second time, the office lost her information, Stephanie says.

"But the fight's not over," she says. "There's no way I'm giving up. I'm just learning more and more with each rejection and each failure."

Ford has not yet acknowledged that their seatbacks are defective or a safety hazard. They continue to deny any problems with those seats. As for government regulation, there are better safety standards for child car seats than for the seats adults sit on, Stephanie says.

"Where am I supposed to put my 7-year-old daughter in a Ford automobile?" she asks. "If I can't put her in the front seat due to the airbag or the back seat because of collapsing seats, where do I have her sit?"

The entire legal process took three years out of her life. But Stephanie doesn't regret spending the time. If she didn't fight Ford, she'd feel guilty about it, she says.

"As an adult, I have the knowledge and power to protect other children and prevent the same thing from happening to other kids," Stephanie says. "My daughter's death wasn't the act of God. It was someone's mistake - a big, horrible mistake."

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