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Author: Maureen Daley

Last Updated March 4, 2024

BUCKLE UP: Massive Nuclear Verdict® Has Pennsylvania in a Tizzy!


Recently, a jury in Philadelphia awarded a whopping $976 million dollar verdict against Mitsubishi for its faulty seat belt design. It took jurors only four hours to deliberate, and they awarded $176.5 million in compensatory damages. For punitive damages, jurors deliberated for just thirty minutes before deciding to award $800 million.


What Happened

The plaintiff, a 52-year-old, master woodworker was involved in a roll-over accident while driving his 1992 Mitsubishi 3000GT which resulted in catastrophic injuries.  While attempting to pass another motorist, he lost control of his vehicle and it rolled over an embankment into a tree on the passenger’s side. The driver suffered bodily injuries to his head, neck, and spinal cord. The driver’s son was a passenger in the vehicle during the crash and was wearing a seatbelt with a similar design. However, his son’s height and weight made a difference, so his son’s seat belt loop didn’t fully deploy, which better restrained him during the crash. In addition, the passenger side was not equipped with an airbag.


Design Defect

The plaintiff alleged Mitsubishi’s driver’s side seat belt design was unreasonably dangerous because it failed to properly restrain drivers during rollover crashes. Plaintiff also alleged Mitsubishi failed to perform the necessary safety test on its sports car seatbelt restraint system.

The seatbelt was designed to tear and extend just enough to allow for movement to protect the driver once the airbag deployed in high-impact crashes. Plaintiff argued the seatbelt design allowed too much slack, which caused the driver to be partially ejected from the seat causing his head to collide with the vehicle’s roof. As a result, the driver suffered catastrophic injuries, leaving him a quadriplegic.

Defendants denied liability and argued the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by modifications he had made to the vehicle, excessive speed, reckless driving, and failure to control his vehicle while attempting to pass another motorist. Also, defendants argued the vehicle’s seatbelt was safe and passed crashworthiness tests.

Plaintiff used accident reconstruction analysis and scientific evidence based on consumer expectation and risk-utility standards to establish the seatbelt’s design was defective and the excess slack created an undue risk and rendered it unreasonably dangerous.

According to expert witnesses, the plaintiff’s head would not have impacted the roof if another reasonably practicable alternative design had been used instead.


Negligence Claim: Failure to Warn

Plaintiff also alleged that the defendants failed to adequately warn about the dangerous driver’s side restraint system and failed to provide instructions regarding its use. Plaintiff was able to produce evidence in the vehicle’s owner’s manual that there should be no slack in the seatbelt.


Damages Awarded

The jury found Mitsubishi liable for the defective design and awarded $176.5 million in compensatory damages for past and future medical care, lost wages, and loss of consortium. Jurors awarded an additional $800 million in punitive damages based on a finding that Mitsubishi’s conduct in its seatbelt design and failure to warn was reckless and wanton. Defendants have appealed the damages award verdict and filed a motion for a new trial based on the court’s failure to include crashworthiness in the jury instructions; that litigation remains pending.



Nuclear Verdicts® are skyrocketing in both frequency and severity in courtrooms across the country, with Philadelphia leading the charge, having recently been named the number one judicial hellhole by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). To help lessen chances of Nuclear Verdicts®, defense attorneys should be on the lookout for opportunities to show the defendant cares about plaintiff, too! Accepting responsibility is a critical Nuclear Verdict® defense method, as it offers the defendant the opportunity to defuse juror anger at the heart of Nuclear Verdicts® while inviting jurors to consider who else might bear some responsibility. Often, that party is the plaintiff himself. It is unclear if the defense accepted responsibility or employed any of the other Nuclear Verdict® defense methods in this case, but all four methods (accept responsibility, personalize the corporate defendant, give a number, and argue pain and suffering) work in tandem to defuse juror anger and stop Nuclear Verdicts® before they happen!