Baumann, Gant & Keeley obtains full defense verdict in wrongful death products liability trial

(May 20, 2021) - Gary Baumann and Michael Pedowitz from Baumann, Gant & Keeley recently obtained a complete defense verdict in a Palm Beach County, Florida wrongful death trial where the Plaintiff asked for $5.6M in closing argument. The facts of the case and trial are as follows:

On March 19, 2019, plaintiff’s decedent Arshia Poursartip, 38, a sales clerk, was driving a car eastbound in Palm Beach County when he lost control and struck a commercial flatbed truck in front of him. The truck had underride guard model ICC-PM16K attached to the rear.

Pegah Jones, acting as the personal representative of her late brother’s estate, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blue Ridge Manufacturing and Rayside Truck & Trailer. The lawsuit included products-liability claims for strict liability, design defect, manufacturing defect and improper installation of an allegedly defective underride guard that caused, or contributed to, Mr. Poursartip’s death. The estate’s counsel retained a biomechanics expert who opined that if the guard had worked as intended, Poursartip would have only suffered minor or moderate injuries. Plaintiff’s counsel further noted that neither defendant did any prior testing of the subject guard.

The estate’s counsel also argued that Rayside failed to follow Blue Ridge’s instructions for installing the guard. The estate’s counsel claimed that Blue Ridge’s directions called for the welds to each be three inches. However, per plaintiff’s counsel, Rayside’s welds were shorter than that.

The defendants maintained that the guard was not defective. The defendants noted that there had been no prior complaints regarding the guard in question. The defendants also contended that underride guards are designed for crashes where the front of a trailing vehicle strikes the back of a truck. The defense claimed that the guard was not meant to address impacts where the side of the trailing vehicle hits the truck’s rear. Plaintiff’s counsel countered that the side of a car striking the rear of a truck was foreseeable, and that the guard should have thus been designed to withstand that type of impact. The defendants’ mechanical engineering expert also opined that the forces of the subject crash greatly exceeded the known tolerance of properly designed underride guards that met required standards. The defense retained a biomechanics expert who opined that it was impossible to tell whether the decedent’s fatal injury resulted from a direct impact with the flatbed or from the sudden acceleration/deceleration forces on Poursartip’s body during the crash. The expert further opined that Poursartip would have still sustained these forces even if the flatbed truck had an underride guard with the alternative design put forth by the plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s counsel argued that a non-defective underride guard would have prevented Poursartip’s head from hitting the flatbed.

The estate sought recovery of medical or funeral expenses along with damages for Poursartip’s mother’s loss of support and services, and her pain and suffering. Plaintiff's counsel asked the jury to award $5.6 million.

The jury issued a defense verdict. It found that there was no negligence by either defendant that was a legal cause of Poursartip’s death. The jury also found that neither defendant placed a guard on the market with a defect that was a legal cause of Poursartip’s death. (Baumann, Gant & Keeley, P.A.)