An Essex County jury has ordered Nissan to pay Larry Clanton $4.2 million for his injuries and damages suffered after a run-away tire fell off a pickup truck and struck the roof of Clanton’s Nissan Altima. The verdict was just announced last week. As Clanton was driving to meet friends at the Jersey Shore in July of 2006, a 73-pound tire bounced onto the roof of Clanton’s Nissan Altima, cracking and collapsing the roof. The roof collapse caused Clanton’s head to push forward and fracture his cervical spine.
The suit alleged that the vehicle’s roof header panel is defective and is not properly secured to the remainder of the roof structure. The jury agreed with the allegations. The same roof header is in Nissan’s 2002 through 2006 editions of the Altima product line. According to The Star-Ledger, Clanton’s attorney argued at trial that the injuries could have been prevented had the header that forms the front of the roof been affixed to the sides of the roof’s steel skeleton, as is common in most cars. Clanton’s attorney also argued that Nissan changed the roof structure on this vehicle and did not conduct a single test on its durability prior to mass marketing and distribution.
Nissan’s representatives, despite the verdict, are still maintaining that the Nissan Altima was not the cause of Clanton’s injuries and damages. At trial, Nissan’s attorneys argued that any roof would have collapsed and caused Clanton’s injuries, given the speed of the vehicle and the tire at impact. According to Steven Oldham, a Nissan spokesperson, “We are disappointed by the jury’s findings and are exploring our options.”
With regards to the apportionment of liability at trial, the jury found that the pickup truck driver was 15% responsible for causing the damages and injuries to Clanton. The jury charged Nissan with 85% responsibility for the defective roof structure. Clanton told reporters following the verdict “I feel great that I won but I just feel as though I wish I could have my life back…I hope this makes the manufacturers more responsible…I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through.”