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After a three-week trial, an Alabama jury returned a $9.9 million verdict against Mazda in a 2010 auto accident that killed a passenger and left the driver with severe burns requiring multiple skin grafts.

The 16-year-old driver lost control of her 2008 Mazda 3 and hit a utility pole on the driver’s side, close to the fuel tank. When the fuel tank ruptured it leaked gasoline, causing a fire. The driver escaped the burning vehicle, but 15% of her body was burned. The passenger was trapped inside.

The lawsuit was tried under Alabama’s Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine, the state’s product liability law. According to court documents, the vehicle was built to specifications, but the design was defective. The complaint alleged that Mazda designed the vehicle in violation of industry standards; it should have known that placing the fuel tank adjacent to a hard metal muffler with a sharp edge and no proper shield could lead to a fuel-fed fire in the event of an accident. Mazda claimed that the vehicle met and exceeded all government standards and that the accident represents the only claim, lawsuit or consumer complaint, but the plaintiff’s attorneys were able to show there were nine post-accident fuel fire fatalities. The jury awarded $6 million in favor of the driver and $3.9 million to the parents of the deceased 15-year-old passenger. An earlier complaint against the driver only had previously settled.

“With this case, we established that industry standards require that mufflers should be behind the rear axle and away from the fuel tank,” said an attorney for the plaintiffs. “All of this could have been avoided if Mazda placed the safety of its customers first.”

However, Mazda does not agree that the plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to support their allegation of defect, nor does it believe that there was evidence establishing that Mazda violated any industry standards. An appeal is being considered.

This is another example of the “delay, deny, confuse and refuse” mentality that prevails in corporate America when it comes to being sued for injuries caused by their violations of public safety. Auto manufacturers are responsible for the safety of the products they sell. Defective and dangerous vehicles place drivers and passengers at risk for serious injury or death, yet manufacturers continue to cut corners. When there is no accountability, corporations can worry less about safety and more about profits. I have nothing against healthy corporate profits; nothing against businesses making money. But, manufacturers owe it to consumers to put safety first and to act responsibility by issuing recalls and correcting problems.
To date, Mazda has not issued a recall on these vehicles. Lawsuit Financial hopes the company will act responsibly and take action to protect its customers and everyone on our roadways. We know of no one who wants to sell consumer safety and well-being to big business.

When corporations don’t do the right thing, Lawsuit Financial will continue to provide non-recourse lawsuit funding to injured people who are fighting these corporate Goliaths without adequate resources to do so. Hopefully, our lawsuit cash advances will provide the resources to withstand the litigation process until justice is served.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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