Kia airbag suit tossed for lack of expert

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Airbag dispute

The case: Injured driver says airbag on 1997 Kia Sephia failed to deploy.

Where it stands: Mississippi judge dismisses case without trial.

An injured driver's failure to present expert testimony to support her airbag and seat belt defect claims has doomed her Mississippi product liability suit against Kia Motors America Inc.

Without expert witnesses, the driver "offers no evidence other than her conclusions" that the airbag in her 1997 Sephia should have deployed and that the seat belt failed to operate properly in a 1998 crash, U.S. District Judge Walter Gex III of Biloxi has ruled.

According to the decision, Jamaka Rouse was driving when another car either ran a stop sign or committed a rolling stop, hitting the front of her Sephia. The airbag didn't deploy, and Rouse severely fractured her right arm.

Her suit alleged design and manufacturing defects, as well as failure to warn and breach of warranty. She said she was wearing the three-point manual seat belt.

Kia disputed the defect allegations.

In tossing out the case, Gex cited expert testimony from Kia that there were no defects and that the systems operated properly. Two defense experts also offered their opinions that the crash was of insufficient magnitude for the airbag to deploy.

The dismissal came just before the scheduled trial, according to Kia's lawyer, David Ayers of Jackson.

Rouse did not support her claims with expert witnesses of her own, as required, Gex said. "Airbag and seat belt systems are highly technical and complex devices requiring specialized knowledge to adequately understand. Arguably, it would be impossible to prove a defect in such systems without expert testimony," the judge said.

"Further, other than Rouse's injuries, she has failed to offer any evidence of a defect in the airbag system, the seat belt or the car."

Ayers said Rouse had settled with the other driver involved in the crash.

Rouse's lawyer didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

You can reach Eric Freedman at

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