CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Arash Homampour delivering his closing argument
Los Angeles, CA - A California state court jury returned a $21 million verdict on Monday in a lawsuit claiming a supposedly defective airbag caused a passenger’s serious brain injury, but assigned all liability to the drunk driver who hit the plaintiffs while clearing Nissan on design defect claims.
The verdict follows a trial that got underway in mid-April and was recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network. Plaintiffs Shanel Salinas and her sister Nicole sued Nissan following a collision with a 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 maintained the airbag functioned properly and that Shanel’s injuries are not as severe as her lawsuit claimed.
While the jury sided with the plaintiffs with regards to compensation for their injuries, they rejected arguments that a so-called “dead zone” in the passenger side airbag of the 2011 Altima in question caused Shanel’s head to impact the “B-pillar” of the car - a structural component that divides the front seating area from the rear.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that Nissan would have known the airbag allegedly offered inadequate protection for passengers if they performed more extensive testing, but Nissan argued the airbag functioned properly and that some injuries in high-impact collisions are unavoidable. They encouraged jurors to blame Fernando Galvis Ortiz, the incarcerated drunk driver, for the collision.
Subscribers to CVN’s online trial video library get unlimited on-demand access to the trial among hundreds more, including many other automotive product liability trials.
CVN screenshot of defense attorney Thomas Klein delivering his closing argument
Arash Homampour of the Homampour Law Firm, who represents the plaintiffs, told CVN after the trial’s conclusion that he considers the outcome a “temporary setback.”
He said he expects the judgement will be collectible against the Ortiz’s insurance carrier due to refusing to accept a policy limit settlement demand, and that he expects the total award to grow to $45 million with fees and interest included.
However Homampour indicated he would seek a motion for a new trial against Nissan on “all issues” - potentially with punitive damages claims reinstated - citing “improper arguments by Nissan and juror irregularities that infected the process from beginning to end.”
Homampour suggested jurors were confused by contradictory instructions regarding applicable government safety standards, and also noted a request for a verdict form in Spanish led to concerns about jurors performing translation for other jurors during the deliberations.
Having already entered into a confidential settlement with the airbag’s manufacturer, Homampour said there was no high/low agreement in place with Nissan.
A representative for Nissan declined to comment on the verdict.
Homampour repeatedly stressed that he considers this outcome to be temporary, noting that his firm has the resources to try, appeal and potentially retry a complex case like this without any impact on their bottom line.
“We have had so much success and abundance as a law firm that exists to right wrongs that we can easily continue this fight until the very end,” Homampour said. “I exist to get justice and a temporary loss that result from an infected process is just part of life and why there is a Court of Appeal.”
Thomas Klein of Klein Thomas Lee & Fresard represented Nissan.
Judge J. Stephen Czuleger presided over the trial.
The case is captioned Nicole Salinas, et al. v. Fernando Galvis Ortiz, et al., case number BC569227 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
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