The Arizona Court of Appeals has let stand a jury verdict finding Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A. liable for only 8 percent of a $6,050,000 judgment in a rollover suit.
The unanimous decision was a victory for Nissan, which disputed the existence of any defect in the vehicle during the trial but did not appeal the partial liability verdict as a matter of strategy.
The suit was filed on behalf of Kimberly Griesmer, who suffered permanent and totally disabling closed-head injuries when a 1990 Pathfinder in which she was a passenger went off the road and rolled over 51/2 times. Her employer, a dentist, owned the vehicle and was driving the two of them in the course of their work.
According to the appeals court, the dentist was traveling about 70 mph on a two-lane road with a 55-mph speed limit when he lost control, possibly having fallen asleep at the wheel. Griesmer was belted properly.
The product liability claims contended that the roof header and A-pillar collapsed inward onto her skull as a result of design and manufacturing defects. Nissan denied the vehicle was defective. A Pima County Superior Court jury attributed 92 percent of the fault to the driver and 8 percent to Nissan.
Under Arizona tort law, Gries-mer cannot collect negligence damages from the dentist and is limited to workers' compensation benefits because the accident happened in the course of her employment. That means she is entitled to only $484,000 from Nissan, reflecting its 8 percent share of responsibility, according to Thomas Klein, a Phoenix lawyer for the automaker.
'It's another brick in the wall for abolition of joint and several liability in Arizona,' Klein said. Under joint and several liability, Nissan would have been responsible for the full amount of damages if the dentist could not pay his proportionate share.
Griesmer's attorney said she is collecting workers' compensation. The state workers' compensation fund is paying her medical expenses, according to the court.