Nissan Defends Truck’s Airbag System At Products Liability Trial - Watch Gavel-to-Gavel via CVN

Posted by David Siegel on May 30, 2024 12:41:07 PM

Jones openings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney J. Randall Jones delivering his opening statement

Las Vegas, NV - A Nevada state court jury heard opening statements Tuesday in a lawsuit claiming a supposedly defective airbag system in a deceased driver’s Nissan truck broke his neck after deploying accidentally, and the full trial is being webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.

John Paxin sued Nissan following a 2017 incident when Paxin, then 68, suffered an unspecified medical event and drove his 2012 Titan truck off the road, clipping another vehicle but not rolling over. His lawsuit claimed the truck improperly registered a rollover event and deployed the side curtain airbag, or SCAB, which fractured Paxin’s neck, rendering him a quadprapeligic. He died in 2020 of pneumonia.

Nissan argues Paxin broke his neck due to the impact of driving the truck off a steep embankment, which was allegedly exacerbated by a medical condition that made his neck unusually brittle, and that the SCAB system functioned properly and is not defective. 


During his opening statement on behalf of the Paxin family, attorney J. Randall Jones of Kemp Jones LLP told jurors the SCAB system on the 2012 Titan is “completely unreliable and defective” and that Nissan allegedly knew for years the truck’s onboard computer could improperly register rollover events.

Jones accused Nissan of later initiating a “service campaign” to repair the problem instead of a formal recall, because they’re less expensive and don’t pose a risk of having to halt vehicle sales.

He argued data submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed Nissan reported hundreds of incidents where rollover detectors reported vehicles rolled over when they had not, and he stressed that despite the impact with another vehicle and driving over rough terrain nothing should have set off the side airbag in Paxin’s truck.

“It should not have gone off when it did,” Jones stressed.

According to Jones, even Nissan’s own accident reconstruction expert failed to get the side airbag to deploy when subjecting a vehicle to the same conditions as Paxin’s in simulated accident tests.

“Nissan’s own expert couldn’t recreate the event that they claim was a proper deployment of John’s airbag,” he said. 

Jones didn’t request a specific amount of damages in his opening, but he did tell jurors Paxin incurred more than $6.5 million in medical bills due to his intensive treatment and the numerous complications he suffered after the accident, and that he would ask for punitive damages at the conclusion of the trial.

Representing Nissan, attorney Tom Klein of Klein Thomas Lee & Fresard told jurors the data from the Titan’s “black box” supports the theory Paxin lost consciousness before the airbag deployed, which Klein argued proved the defense theory that the accident impact broke Paxin’s neck and not the airbag.

Klein openings

CVN screenshot of defense attorney Tom Klein delivering his opening statement 

Klein also revealed to jurors that Paxin had a history of fainting without a specific cause known as syncope, that Klein says would have rendered him ineligible for a commercial driver’s license. He also noted Paxin hadn’t eaten the day of the accident and only consumed a cup of coffee.

“He should not have been behind the wheel,” he said. 

Klein maintained that despite these factors the airbag still functioned properly, and that the system works by calculating when a rollover is likely to occur as opposed to deploying the airbag after a rollover takes place. He told jurors although Paxin's truck didn't actually roll over that his driving off the embankment met the conditions for the system to think a rollover would occur.

He walked the jury through data from the Titan’s black box supposedly confirming this, which he said the plaintiffs dismiss as anomalous only because they don’t adequately understand the predictive nature of the rollover protection system’s design.

“You can’t say this doesn’t make sense, therefore there must be a defect,” Klein said.

Klein goes into the trial with a record of having already secured a defense verdict for Nissan in another side curtain airbag-related case also covered by CVN.

In 2023 a California state court jury returned a $21 million verdict in a lawsuit claiming a supposedly defective airbag in a 2011 Altima 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.

In 2022 Klein also successfully defended Nissan in the same court the current trial is taking place in a case centering on a fatal rollover accident involving a 2004-model Nissan Xterra.

These trials are among numerous automotive product liability cases in CVN’s online trial video library.

Interested in auto collision trial techniques? Check out this playlist - available to subscribers only - on successful accident reconstruction evidence presentation. Or check out our growing Playlist Library for more.

The current trial is taking place before Judge Mark Denton, and CVN’s gavel-to-gavel coverage, including all expert witness testimony, will continue for the duration of the proceedings.

The case is captioned John Paxin Jr., et al., v. Nissan North America, et al. A-19-805016-C in Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court.

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Topics: Nevada