Musician suffers paralyzing injuries when seat in 15-passenger van breaks loose in rollover

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Recent Cases: Transportation

October/November 2009, Volume 28, No. 8

Musician suffers paralyzing injuries when seat in 15-passenger van breaks loose in rollover 

Pierson v. Ford Motor Co., U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., No. 3:06-cv-06503, May 27, 2009.

Dax Pierson, the keyboardist and vocalist for the rock band Subtle, was traveling with other band members in a rented 2003 Ford Econoline 15-passenger van while the band was touring. Pierson was seated in the first row of bench seats, just behind the front passenger seat. While the van was traveling in a snowy area, it hit a patch of black ice, skidded off the road, and rolled over. On impact, the latching mechanism on Pierson’s seat failed, and the seat came loose. Pierson, who was belted in the seat, was catapulted upward and struck his head on the ceiling of the van. The 36-year-old musician suffered a spinal fracture at C5 that rendered him quadriplegic. He now uses a wheelchair and requires assistance with most daily living activities. His past medical expenses totaled about $680,000, and his future life-care costs were estimated at $17 million. Pierson was earning about $38,000 at the time of the incident. He remains with the band and is able to compose and arrange music, but he can no longer perform or sing as he had before his injury. His lost future earning capacity was estimated at $1 million.

Pierson sued the manufacturer of the van and the rental company that leased it, alleging the seat latching mechanism was defectively designed in that its quick-release mechanism could be released with little or no force. Pierson contended that the seat could be released with just 10 pounds of pressure—one pound more than is required to open a can of soda. He presented videos of expert testing showing how a bag or foot could dislodge the mechanism.

Pierson also alleged that the quick-release mechanism was subject to a false latch condition, in which the seat appeared to be latched when it was not.

The manufacturer denied the latch was defective and argued that the incident was the driver’s fault.

The rental company settled within a year after suit was filed for $5 million.

The jury awarded approximately $18.33 million. There is a pending lien of about $650,000 for health care expenses.

The plaintiff’s experts in this case included Alan Cantor, mechanical engineering and seat design, Penns Park, Pa.

The manufacturer’s experts included Robert Piziali, biomechanics, San Carlos, Cal.

Plaintiff’s Counsel

Kevin Frederick Quinn, San Diego, Cal.
James E. Doyle, Houston, Tex.
Daniel Dell’Osso, San Francisco, Cal.
Brian J. Malloy, San Francisco, Cal.

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