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$32.8 Million Verdict in Personal Injury Case

The Iowa Court of Appeals recently affirmed a jury verdict awarding six plaintiffs and their family members a total of $32.8 million. The plaintiffs sued Cooper Tire and Rubber Company following a rollover accident involving a single multi-passenger van accident.  The involved van was ten years old at the time of accident and had multiple prior owners.  The odometer reflected over 145,000 miles on the van.  The service history of the van was not known.  The van's tires were all replacement tires.  Two of the tires were manufactured by Cooper Tire.  Immediately prior to the accident, the tread on one of the Cooper tires separated, which led to the rollover accident.  The tire was estimated to have over 35,000 miles on it at the time of the accident. One passenger was uninjured, one was killed, one was paralyzed from the neck down, and the others suffered varying degrees of personal injuries.  Of the $32.8 million in damages awarded by the jury, $28.4 million was awarded to the paralyzed passenger, and of this amount $24.5 million was primarily for the cost of 24 hour in home care for the remainder of her life.  The evidence regarding the cost of future medical care was provided by a certified life care planner.

On appeal, Cooper tire raised several evidentiary objections.  The major challenge concerned the Plaintiffs' introduction of Cooper Tire's documents that evidenced Cooper's knowledge of problems with similar tires.  Iowa law requires that evidence of prior problems be "substantially similar" before they are admitted in evidence.  In this instance, the trial court ruled, and the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed, that the substantially similarity arose from the fact that the same "skim stock" was used and found defective in a number of different types of Cooper tires.  Cooper unsuccessfully sought a ruling that substantially similarity could only exist with respect to the same tire involved in the subject accident. 

This case illustrates several important points. First, even if a product is old (10 years) and well used (over 35,000 miles), that a personal injury accident can be successfully maintained. Second, the key to introducing prior accidents or incidents in product cases is to demonstrate a substantial similarity in a critical component of the product, rather than necessarily proving substantial similarities in an identical product.  Finally, in catastrophic injury cases, the Iowa Court of Appeals is willing to affirm significant awards for future medical expenses when those awards are supported by competent evidence as presented by the life care planner in this case. Finally, it illustrates the importance of seeking legal advice from a law firm experienced in prosecuting personal injury actions.



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