Jury Awards $43 Million to Woman Paralyzed in Auto Crash

A jury in Vermont recently returned a $43.1 million jury verdict against the manufacturer of a car seat that collapsed on a woman during a 2007 car crash, leaving her a paraplegic. The amount awarded to Dzemila A. Heco, 51, in her lawsuit against the car seat maker, Johnson Controls Inc. of Milwaukee, is believed to be the largest jury verdict in Vermont state court in history.

The jury reached its verdict after two weeks of trial. Johnson Controls is considering an appeal.

According to a police accident report, Heco was driving her 2000 Dodge Neon when she her car was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by a teenager on August 4, 2007. The driver said that she fell asleep just before striking Heco’s car, which was waiting at a red light to turn into a grocery store parking lot. The other car was traveling at about 35 miles per hour when the crash occurred.

The lawsuit alleged that Heco’s car seat back collapsed on her when the wreck occurred, causing severe spinal cord injuries. She was wearing a seat belt at the time. The lawsuit claimed that the driver’s seating system was designed so that the seat back would collapse and deform rearward during rear-impact crashes.

According to the complaint filed by Heco, a safely designed seating system “remains upright and resists collapse when exposed to foreseeable rear impact crash forces” but her car’s seating system, in effect, “was designed so that its seat back would collapse rearward,” the complaint said.

It was pointed out that Johnson Controls had filed a patent on a dual-side recliner that would have prevented such torque by distributing a rear force equally on both sides. Meanwhile, at trial, Johnson Controls tried to blame Chrysler, the maker of the car Heco was driving.

However, it was pointed out that the car did what it was supposed to do; only the car seat malfunctioned.

The case initially listed 33 defendants when it was filed in 2010.  By 2012, all but Johnson Controls and Midstate Dodge had been dismissed. On June 28th, the jury’s verdict found the seat’s design was defective and caused Heco’s injuries. Midstate Dodge, the dealership where Heco purchased her car, was originally named in the suit, but according to court records, arrived at a confidential settlement prior to the trial.

Johnson Controls, which operated an automobile battery manufacturing plant in Beningston, shut down in 1994.

Ms. Heco is a refugee from Bosnia who escaped Sarajevo with her two sons after her husband was killed in the war. The woman and her sons made their way to the United States, settling in Vermont in 1995. She had worked three jobs for years so her sons could receive an education, according to medical reports.

The verdict will ensure Heco gets the care she needs for the rest of her life.

For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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