CVN screenshots of plaintiff attorney Arash Homampour (left) and defense attorney Thomas Klein (right) delivering their opening statements
Los Angeles, CA - A California state court jury heard opening statements Monday in a lawsuit claiming a supposedly defective airbag in a 2011 Nissan Altima caused a passenger to suffer a severe traumatic brain injury, and the full trial is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
Plaintiffs Shanel Salinas and her sister Nicole sued Nissan following a collision with drunk driver in 2014. They accused Nissan of using a defective design in the passenger-side airbag resulting in a head injury that will supposedly cause Shanel to require 24/7 care for the rest of her life, however Nissan maintains the airbag functioned properly and that Shanel’s injuries are not as severe as her lawsuit claims.
Attorney Arash Homampour of the Homampour Law Firm, who represents the Salinas sisters, told the Los Angeles County jury during his opening statement that the Altima’s front passenger side airbag contained a “dead zone” that did not protect a passenger’s head from impacting the “B-pillar” - a structural support that divides the front section of the car from the rear.
He accused Nissan of supposedly cutting corners by using the same design for the passenger side airbag as the one used for the driver side without taking into consideration that passengers typically sit farther back than a driver, meaning a passenger’s head is far more likely to impact the B-pillar in an accident.
Describing the passenger-side airbag as a “hidden defect,” Homampour argued that Nissan failed to perform adequate safety testing of the vehicle, noting that other vehicles made by Nissan and other manufacturers included protection for front seat passengers that the 2011 Altima lacked. He suggested more extensive testing would have revealed the side airbag, also referred to as a curtain, offered dangerously little protection for impact with the B-pillar.
“If they did this basic analysis that I’ve done in 20 or 10 minutes with you, a reasonable manufacturer would have recognized that side airbag for the passenger is defective and doesn’t protect and that car should never have been put on the road,” Homampour told the jury, according to CVN’s webcast of the proceedings.
He explained that the car’s driver, Nicole, suffered a broken pelvis in the accident but no head injuries, whereas Shanel experienced a “catastrophic” brain injury that will prevent her from ever living independently again.
Homampour described Shanel, who was 21 at the time of the accident, as devastated by her brain injury and completely unable to care for herself, requiring her family to make sure she is constantly supervised at all times.
“They cannot leave her alone for a minute,” he said, telling jurors he would ultimately seek more than $55 million dollars for Shanel’s future care and pain and suffering, along with damages for Nicole.
Representing Nissan, attorney Thomas Klein of Klein Thomas Lee & Fresard told jurors that the 2011 Altima met all applicable federal safety standards, and that even though the airbag supposedly functioned properly the collision with the pickup truck was too severe to avoid an injury.
“It could not at the speeds and forces that we’re talking about here prevent the brain injury that she sustained,” he argued.
Klein disputed the allegation that Nissan failed to consider the position of a passenger’s head in relation to the B-pillar compared to the driver’s, telling jurors the Altima underwent “dozen and dozens and dozens” of crash tests. He told jurors the so-called “dead zone” in the airbag was necessary, since the curtain had to be stiff enough to prevent a passenger not wearing a seatbelt from being thrown out of the car but also not so firm that the airbag itself could cause injury.
“You’ve got to strike a balance between the two,” he suggested.
Klein also told jurors the evidence didn’t back up claims that Shanel’s head actually impacted the B-pillar, citing the lack of a diagnosed skull fracture and accompanying swelling in the brain.
“She would have a skull fracture if she had hit the B-pillar,” he said.
The full trial before Judge J. Stephen Czuleger is expected to take a number of weeks to complete, and CVN’s gavel-to-gavel coverage will continue for the duration of the proceedings.
Subscribers to CVN’s online video library can see both Homampour and Klein in numerous previous trials.
Homampour represented the plaintiff in a wrongful death/dangerous condition lawsuit involving a fatal collision in a crosswalk that settled for $6 million during jury deliberations earlier this year, while Klein successfully defended Nissan last year in a Nevada state court trial stemming from a rollover accident involving an SUV.
The Los Angeles case is captioned Nicole Salinas, et al. v. Fernando Galvis Ortiz, et al., case number BC569227 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Email David Siegel at email@example.com