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Product Liability: 1996 Ford Windstar Minivan Lap Belt Lawsuit

Most product liability lawyers will admit that seatbelt defects are dangerous, especially to children. In 1996, the Karlsson family had recently emigrated to the U.S. from Sweden and was traveling in a 1996 Ford Windstar minivan near Gorman, CA. Agneta Karlsson, her husband and five children were looking forward to visiting a relative in Washington State. Sadly, they would undergo a tragic ordeal that would change their lives forever.

Five-year-old Johan was wearing his lap belt and sitting in the rear seat of the Windstar when the minivan struck a 15-ton steel coil that fell off the back of a tractor-trailer onto the Golden State Freeway. The car crash shut down the freeway for several hours. Johan suffered a broken spine and was rendered paraplegic. He was the most seriously injured of the seven people in the van and the only one wearing a lap belt.

The Karlssons sued the truck driver and his employer, TransContinental Transport, which cross-complained against Ford, alleging the Windstar's defective design contributed to Johan's injuries. The Karlssons subsequently filed suit against Ford alleging a seat belt design defect in the Windstar and that Ford had known for more than two decades that lap belts caused serious injuries to young children. The minivan had lap belts and shoulder harnesses for all seats but the third row center, where Johan was riding. Johan's spinal injuries were consistent with having jackknifed over at the waist. Had the boy been wearing a three-point restraint, his injuries would have been far less severe, insisted the Karlssons.

"This is consistent with what occurs most often in lap-belt-only restraint systems," noted nationally recognized auto product liability attorney, John Bisnar. "Since the late 1950s and early 1960s, the medical community has labeled such injuries as Seat Belt Syndrome. Bodies jackknifed by lap belts usually cause severe abdominal injuries, fractures of the lumbar spine, and serious closed-head and facial injuries. The lap belt applies the tremendous inertial forces of a frontal impact along the pelvis to the mid-section of the wearer. Clamping the waist while leaving the upper torso in free-forward motion causes increased head and neck velocities. This can result in serious head and neck injuries when an occupant's head strikes the dashboard, front seats, consoles, door frames, even the floor of the vehicle or the individual's knees. Most of these injuries can be prevented simply by adding an integrated three-point belt system."

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Howard Schwab barred Ford lawyers from arguing that the belts were not defective because company executives had lied about documents showing the belts pose a serious danger.

A Chatsworth jury awarded Johan nearly $10.5 million in financial damages, $20 million for pain and suffering, and $15 million in punitive damages. The parties agreed to reduce the total damages to $30.3 million, taking into account the comparative fault and settlement of TransContinental Transport from which he received an additional $10 million. Agneta Karlsson, who lives in Orange County, refused a confidential settlement with Ford, saying she wanted others to learn from the tragedy.

"Dealing with the emotional upheaval of a child suddenly paralyzed is a parent's worst nightmare. Yet the Karlssons found the strength to turn down a confidential settlement offered by Ford in order to hold Ford accountable in a public fashion so that others could be warned of a potentially lethal defect," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys defective auto product law firm. "We can only hope that this lawsuit and the many lawsuits we have filed against Ford will convince them to design safer restraint systems and prevent the kinds of tragedies that befall the Karlssons and many others like them."

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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