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Using the seat belt defense in Florida to save $14 million

The old pickup truck was moving briskly along a highway in Jacksonville, Florida, when the driver suddenly came upon a line of cars that were stopped due to road construction. The driver tried to slow down as he approached the stalled cars, but his brakes were not functioning properly. To avoid a collision, he made a sudden sharp, turn causing him to lose control of the pickup. The truck then swerved and rolled over several times. The passenger door sprang open, flinging the two unbelted passengers, a man and a woman, outside. Both sustained injury, the woman suffering severe brain damage. Her family brought the case to the attention of an attorney, who asked for a settlement of $16 million from the road construction company, charging unsafe road repair practices. Florida law specifies that an accident victim is only entitled to the portion of damage that is associated with what would have happened if she were strapped in, and the injured woman had failed to wear the available seat belt.

Nevertheless, her lawyer and his expert argued that this was irrelevant since she was brain injured inside the vehicle, before being ejected. Thus, the plaintiff’s attorney contended that the victim was entitled to full damages from this injury.

The defense represented by Judy Marko, of the law firm of Kirschner, Main, Graham, Tanner & Demont in Jacksonville, hired TA to determine exactly how the passengers were injured. Our engineer built a computer model of the passenger compartment of the vehicle, complete with a computer model of the occupants. Our computer simulation clearly demonstrated that it was extremely unlikely that the woman would have received the blows to the head that caused her brain injury if she had been wearing her seat belt. TA’s computer evidence persuaded the plaintiff’s family to cut the original request to approximately $2 million. The defense was very pleased to have saved some $14 million as a result of TA’s efforts.