Home Case Results Flax v. DaimlerChrysler Corp. and Louis Stockell

Product Liability / Auto / Seatback Failure / Punitive Damages

11/23/2004 - $105,500,000

Flax v. DaimlerChrysler Corp. and Louis Stockell; First Circuit Court, Davidson County, Tennessee. There is a defective front passenger seat in the 1998 Dodge Caravan. 8-month-old Joshua Flax received a fatal brain injury when the front passenger seat failed rearward, causing the passenger’s head to slam into Joshua’s head when the family’s minivan was hit from behind in a minor rear impact, resulting in a change in velocity to the minivan of only 17-19 mph. No one in either vehicle had any significant injury except Joshua, whose skull was crushed solely as a result of the front seat back’s rearward collapse and failure. Plaintiffs proved that DaimlerChrysler had known for years that its seatbacks were failing in rear impacts, as shown by its own rear crash tests where every front seat collapsed, and from its notice of incidents from the real world where children seated behind the seats as well as adults in the collapsing seats themselves were killed, paralyzed, and brain damaged when the seats failed in rear impacts. As actual damages, the jury awarded $5 million to Joshua’s parents, Rachel Sparkman and Jeremy Flax, for the wrongful death of Joshua and $2.5 million to Rachel Sparkman, individually, for negligent infliction of emotional distress for witnessing the injuries to her 8-month-old, against both Daimler Chrysler and Stockell. After finding that DaimlerChrysler’s misconduct in marketing, selling, and failing to warn about the defective seatbacks was “reckless,” the jury also awarded $98 million in punitive damages against DaimlerChrysler. This verdict is believed to be the largest seatback verdict in the USA and the largest product liability verdict in Tennessee history.

Chrysler appealed the jury’s verdict to the Tennessee Supreme Court. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the wrongful death recovery and the punitive damages associated with it.

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