$41.94 Million Jury Verdict for Catastrophic Injuries to Driver and Passenger Caused by Vehicle’s Failed Roof, Fuel-Fed Fire

In August 2013, Matthew and Marcia Seebachan bought a used 2010 Honda Fit from a car dealer relying on a CARFAX vehicle report that showed that the car had a clean history with no structural repairs or hail damage.

Unbeknownst to the Seebachans, the Honda’s previous owner had taken the vehicle to John Eagle Collision Center in 2012 to repair hail damage to its roof.  Instead of being welded with a new steel roof using 108 welds, as specified by the Honda Corp., this collision center used a glue-like adhesive to attach the new roof.

In December 2013, the Seebachans were traveling on a highway when a Toyota pickup truck hydroplaned and struck the Honda head on. On impact, the Honda’s roof separated from the body of the vehicle. The roof separation set off a chain of structural failures: the safety cage collapsed, the driver’s side roof rail deformed; and the rocker panel underneath the vehicle collapsed, puncturing the gas tank beneath the driver’s seat.

A fuel-fed fire erupted and engulfed Matthew’s lower legs, which were trapped by an intruding floor pan. Individuals who came on the scene pulled the couple from the burning vehicle, but both Seebachans sustained severe injuries.

Matthew, 33, suffered third- and fourth-degree burns to his legs and feet and fractures to both heels, his left arm and multiple fractures to his ribs. He also suffered bilateral carotid artery dissections, acute respiratory failue and multiple lacerations to his forehead.

He underwent two years of extensive treatment for his burns, including debridement, skin grafting and thirteen surgeries. His burn treatment was delayed due to the open reduction internal fixation of his fractures. He remains unable to place any pressure on his feet. He uses a walker and lives with constant, excruciating nerve pain in his feet so severe that he must wear a fentanyl pain-relief patch 24 hours a day. At the time of the incident, Matthew was attending nursing school, but he was forced to abandon his career plans.

Marcia, 29 at the time, sustained an Atlanto-occipital dislocation, which is often a fatal injury in which the ligaments and bone structures of the spinal column separate from the base of the skull. About one-third of all cervical spine injuries are of this variety. The reason the injury is so severe is because it is often underreported since most victoms who suffer this injury do not survive.

Marcia also suffered bilateral carotid artery dissections, transection of the thoracic aorta, bilateral pulmonary contusions and bilateral hemothoraces or blood in the pleural cavity, bilateral renal contusions and multiple fractures to the sternum, right arm, pelvis, left leg and left foot. She underwent open reduction internal fixation of the fractures. The Seebachans’ combined medical expenses exceeded $1 million.

The Seebachans sued John Eagle Collision Center claiming that the company was negligent and grossly negligent for using a defective and untested repair method to attach the new roof to the Honda.

The plaintiffs asserted that the dealership made a business decision to use the unauthorized repair for which the insurer paid $8,500. In deposition testimony, the collision center body shop director reportedly acknowledged that the company failed to follow Honda’s repair specifications, which called for the welding of this roof.

At trial, the defendant’s corporate representative admitted that insurance companies always dictated which repair methods would be permitted and paid for.  He also allegedly admitted that his company had chosen not to follow the 2009-2013 Honda Fit Body Repair Manual.

The Seebachans’ experts testified about how the roof would not have separated if it had been welded and how the separation of the roof caused the series of structural failures that led to the plaintiffs’ catastrophic injuries.

The Seebachans’ experts testified that if the Honda Fit’s roof had been welded, they likely would have sustained only minor injuries.

Other evidence showed that there was no way the Seebachans or the dealership that sold them the car could have detected that the roof had been glued on rather than welded.

The defendant collision company argued that the roof was not a structural component but just a panel and that the adhesive used was just as strong as welding.

The Seebachans countered with expert testimony that welds were much stronger.

The jury allocated fault at 75% to the collision center defendant and 25% to the other driver of the pickup truck with whom the plaintiffs had settled previously.

The jury then signed a verdict of approximately $41.94 million. The parties reportedly settled shortly after the verdict under a high/low agreement.

The attorneys successfully handling this tragic case were E. Todd Tracy, Andrew G. Counts, Leighton Durham and Bill H. Leibbe.

At trial, the attorneys representing the Seebachans presented experts in automotive engineering, biomechanical engineering, accident reconstruction, physical medicine and rehabilitation/burn care.

The defendants presented experts in automotive engineering and emergency medicine/injury mechanism.

Seebachan v. John Eagle Collision Center, No. DC-15-09782 (Tex. Dist. Ct. Dallas County).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile product defect lawsuits, wrongful death cases, catastrophic injury lawsuits and product defect cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Bedford Park, Bridgeview, Hickory Hills, Palos Heights, Palatine, Lemont, Burr Ridge, Berkeley, Forest Park, Maywood, Melrose Park, Franklin Park, Northlake, Chicago (Polish Village, Jefferson Park, Edgebrook, Sauganash, Westridge, Pulaski Park, Ravenswood, Lincoln Square, North Center, Clybourn Corridor, Lincoln Park, Goose Island, Near North, West Town, Greek Town, Stockyards, Marquette Park, Archer Heights), Cicero, Berwyn, Wood Dale and Mount Prospect, Ill.

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