Three Million Dollar Recovery for Misuse of Child Seatbelt Restraints
On April 14, 2005 the plaintiffs departed their home in Wisconsin en route to Red Wing, Minnesota with the intention of purchasing all terrain vehicles. The plaintiff was driving a Ford F150 pick-up truck provided by his employer, BASF Corporation. His four minor children were all passengers in the rear seat of this vehicle. The rear seat of the Ford F150 has three designated sitting positions for passengers. Lacking one seating position, the plaintiff chose to secure his six year old son and his seven year old son together in the vehicle’s rear center seating position. The decision of the plaintiff to secure two children with one seatbelt violated the child restraint procedures set out by Ford in the Owner’s Manual as well as Wisconsin statutes relating to mandated child restraints. Wisc. Stat. 347.48 (4).
After crossing the St. Croix River into Minnesota the plaintiff proceeded north on Minnesota Hwy. 61. Just south of Lake City his Ford F150 pick-up was struck head-on by a GMC Yukon operated by the defendant which had come over the centerline.
The misuse of the center seat belt for his sons resulted in classic lap belt injuries which have been extensively documented throughout the literature. When the lap belt was shared by two children it rode up over their pelvises setting them up for severe abdominal injuries. More importantly, one son was deprived of any benefit of the shoulder restrain. The medical literature demonstrates that this allows the upper body to hyperflex excessively with the lap belt acting as a fulcrum causing extreme flexion distraction spinal injuries. One son suffered a torn aorta and the other son suffered a spinal cord injury at L2-L3 resulting in paralysis. Plaintiff’s biomechanical engineers concluded that if both children had been properly restrained in a three point restraint system they would not have sustained either of these classic lap belt injuries.
Both children’s cases were placed in suit against their father alleging his negligence in misusing the passive restraint system and that this misuse was a direct cause of the injuries to both sons. The case was sued in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin rather than Minnesota since Minnesota Statute 169.685, subd. 4 prohibits submission into evidence of the fact of compliance or non-compliance with the seat belt statute. The Wisconsin statute, 347.48(4) allows for the admission of such evidence but restricts the plaintiff’s cause of action by stating “failure to [transport a child unless the child is restrained] and [properly restrain children under the age of 8] does not by itself constitute negligence”.
One son's past medical expenses was in the amount of $389,412.75. The other son's past medical expense was in the amount of $102,827.37.
This lawsuit being brought by minor children against their father for failure to properly restrain them in a motor vehicle was a case of first impression in the state of Wisconsin. Zurich Insurance Company paid $2,725,000.00 in settlement of for one son's case in a structured settlement providing a projected lifetime yield in the amount of $18,797,000. The other son recovered from his injuries without any permanent disabilities. His case was settled for the amount of $275,000.00.