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$24.7 Million Award for Jaklin Romine - Defective Seatback Victim

An appellate court upheld (Case Number: B239761) a $24.7 million jury verdict awarded to Jaklin Mikhal Romine who was rendered a permanent quadriplegic when the defective driver's seat of her car collapsed during a rear-end collision in October 2006.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Newport Beach, Calif. March 25, 2014 – In a decision issued March 17, the Court of Appeal for the State of California, Second Appellate District, ruled that a $24.7 million jury award to Jaklin Mikhal Romine in an auto product liability case must be upheld. According to court documents, Johnson Controls designed, manufactured and sold the seat, which collapsed during a rear-end collision in October 2006 at a street intersection in Pasadena, Calif.

Court documents state that Romine suffered catastrophic head and spinal cord injuries in spite of wearing a seatbelt because her seatback collapsed. On impact, Romine's seat broke and collapsed backwards allowing her body to submarine rearward underneath her seatbelt and shoulder restraint. Her head struck the back of the rear passenger seat causing her to suffer the severe injuries that left her permanently paralyzed, according to court filings.

The appellate court issued a decision stating that the seat that caused Romine's permanent injuries was in fact defective. The appellate court also upheld the jury's $24.7 million verdict for Romine. "We are extremely pleased that the court upheld the jury's verdict for our client," said Brian Chase, lead trial attorney and partner at Bisnar Chase. "Jaklin has undergone permanent injuries as a result of a defective seatback. Her life will never be the same again."

Chase said that since the early to mid-90s, Johnson Controls was well aware of the dangers and risks of weak seats. Because of this knowledge, the company had actually developed a design that was more structurally sound to prevent seats from collapsing in accidents such as this one. “As a matter of fact, had Johnson Controls used their other seat design, a seat design that is much more structurally sound that it had known about for at least 10 years before this accident, Jaklin would be walking today and suffered little or no injuries in this accident” says Chase.

"They had the know-how to build safer seats, but chose to put profits before the safety of consumers," Chase said. "This tragedy could have been entirely avoided."

The appellate court's decision, which upholds the jury award and deems the seatback in question to have been defective, is a tremendous victory not only for the product liability lawyers at Bisnar Chase who poured their time, efforts and passion into this case, but also for consumers, Chase said.

"The appellate court also upheld the 'consumer expectation test,' which means that consumers have a reasonable expectation of safety from a product," Chase said. "Auto makers and manufacturers of other products do not want to be held up to that test. They'd rather have a battle of experts and confuse the jury. But, thankfully, the court held up the consumer expectation test, which is a win for us and the consumers."

Unfortuantely, seats in cars continue to be made with questionable quality for the sake of saving a few dollars here and there for the manufacturer. You can find more information about defective seat backs and other dangerous auto defects in our auto defects section.

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