Lap/Shoulder Belt Option v. Standard Equipment

One child died and one was severely injured when the wagon driven by their father collided with another vehicle. The children were seated in the middle bench seat wearing the lap seat belts provided by the manufacturer. The manufacturer sold the same wagon with rear seat lap/shoulder belts as standard equipment in four other countries. However, in the United States, the wagon was sold with rear lap seat belts only and an option for rear lap/shoulder seat belts. The plaintiffs brought claims for strict liability and negligence. The plaintiff first tried this crashworthiness case in April ____. Following a defense verdict, the plaintiffs appealed and requested the First Circuit to certify the question of the plaintiffs' burden of proof in a crashworthiness case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The First Circuit certified the question, which was answered in Plaintiffs' favor by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, clarifying the plaintiffs' burden of proof in a crashworthiness case with indivisible injuries. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that in such cases, the burden of allocating the injuries caused by the collision or the defect belongs to the defendants.

The case was retried after the First Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial. The plaintiffs presented evidence of the dangerousness of lap seat belts and the manufacturer's inadequate testing and negligent conduct by disregarding internal test results. As a result of the incident, both children struck their heads on intruding parts of the vehicle. A principal benefit of lap/shoulder belts is to prevent and minimize head contact with intruding vehicle parts. Additionally, there was evidence of the manufacturer's reluctance to install retrofit rear lap/shoulder seat belts, despite recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board to make the retrofit kits available for after market vehicles. After three weeks, the jury returned special verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs with pre-judgment interest.

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