Toyota Motor Corp. will have to pay $12.5 million after a California jury found it responsible for lap-only seat belt injuries in a crash on Feb. 21, 2010. That day, Chelsie Hill rode as a passenger on a rear center seat of a 1996 Toyota 4Runner driven by Aaron Corn. Corn was then under the influence of alcohol and was driving 30mph when the vehicle crashed into a tree in Monterey, Calif.
Hill was debilitated and now needs a wheelchair to move around. The jury, which rendered its verdict following a four-week trial, determined Corn was 5-percent responsible for Hill’s injuries. Hill was also determined for getting in a car with a drunken driver.
The rear center seat of the car was the only one seat. Although she wore the seatbelt, the lap belt wasn’t enough to protect her in the crash. She “jackknifed” over the belt during the crash, thereby injuring her abdomen and lower spinal column and leaving her paraplegic, according to a statement by the jury.
According to neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Lieberson, the belt “virtually decapitated” Hill at her midsection, noting that she was only held together by her skin. The $12.5-million award would be used to cover her past and future medical expenses, with around $4 million awarded for general pain and suffering, Hill’s attorney, Bob Rosenthal told Automotive News.
On the other hand, Toyota said Hill’s injuries were not due to a defect in the 1996 Toyota 4Runner, as remarked by spokeswoman Carly Shaffner. The Japanese carmaker argued that Hill’s injury was due to improper use of the belt as well as the brutality of the crash.