CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Paul Kiesel delivering his closing argument.
Los Angeles - A California state court jury slammed Nissan with a $25 million verdict on Friday after determining that an SUV’s defective brakes caused an accident that killed three people and resulted in an elderly driver being wrongfully charged with vehicular manslaughter.
The jury returned a 10-2 verdict at the end of a trial that began on June 26. The panel agreed that a faulty software component in a 2004 model Infiniti QX56 SUV caused the vehicle to slam into another car carrying a mother and her two daughters in 2012.
The children’s father, Hilario Cruz, and other family members sued Nissan North America Inc., claiming that the company knew about problems with the “delta stroke sensor” component in the SUV’s breaking system but failed to adequately warn consumers by issuing a recall.
Nissan argued throughout the trial that the accident was caused entirely by Solomon Mathenge, then 74. Mathenge was charged with manslaughter after the crash, but the charges were dropped when prosecutors became aware of a class action lawsuit against Nissan alleging the same type of brake failure Mathenge claimed he suffered occurred in numerous other vehicles, including the QX56.
The full trial was webcast live and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
The verdict is far less than the $231 million in mostly punitive damages requested by Brett Turnbull of Cory Watson PC, who represented Cruz. However Turnbull’s co-counsel Jerome Tapley told CVN he still feels that the jury “got it right.”
“The jury determined that the brake system was defective and the vehicles should have been recalled,” Tapley said. “This verdict should prompt Nissan to recall these vehicles that are still out on our roadways to prevent another tragedy.”
Jurors awarded $14 million to Cruz, $7.4 million to a daughter who was dropped off at school shortly before the accident, and $3.5 million to Mathenge.
Cruz initially sued Mathenge along with Nissan after the accident, but Mathenge was dismissed from the case and subsequently joined Cruz’s lawsuit against Nissan after becoming aware of the class action involving a similar brake defect.
Mathenge’s attorney Paul Kiesel of Kiesel Law told CVN the jury made the correct decision when it found that Mathenge was negligent in his operation of the vehicle, but that the negligence did not contribute to the accident.
“The decision to relieve Mr. Mathenge of the responsibility he lives with every day of having taken these lives is just a massive gift to him, and appropriately so,” Kiesel said.
Nissan’s attorneys maintained throughout the trial that security camera footage showed Mathenge accelerating in the seconds before the crash, which they argued was proof that he accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake.
Nissan spokesman Steve Yaeger told CVN the company is disappointed in the verdict and is considering a possible appeal.
“While we are deeply sympathetic to the families affected, Nissan believes the evidence clearly shows that the Infiniti QX56 was not cause of this unfortunate accident,” Yaeger said.
The trial took place before Judge Randolph Hammock, and gavel-to-gavel video from the trial is available to CVN subscribers.
Cruz is represented by Brett Turnbull, Jerome Tapley and Ryan Lutz of Cory Watson Attorneys, and by Kirk Walden of Carter Walden Curtis LLP.
Mathenge is represented by Paul Kiesel of Kiesel Law LLP.
Nissan is represented by Thomas Klein, Julian Senior and Jordan Tabak of Bowman & Brooke LLP.
The case is Cruz v. Nissan North America, et al., case number BC493949, in the Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County.
E-mail David Siegel at [email protected]