Defective wheelchair causes injury to disabled man. $9.8 million. San Diego County.

Summary

Wheelchair user claims he is injured by bolts on wheelchair after modifications are made on it.

The Case

  • Case Name: Toby Morin v. Sunrise Medical (US) LLC and National Seating & Mobility, Inc.
  • Court and Case Number: : San Diego Superior Court / 2015-00027916
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, June 28, 2017
  • Date Action was Filed: Friday, August 14, 2015
  • Type of Action: Products Liability, Highlighted Verdicts
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Richard E. L. Strauss
  • Plaintiffs:
    Toby Morin, 35.
  • Defendants:
    Sunrise Medical (US) LLC
    National Seating & Mobility, Inc.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $9,800,000
  • Settlement Amount: National Seating & Mobility, Inc. and plaintiff entered into a settlement for an undisclosed amount prior to verdict.
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    30% Sunrise Medical (US) LLC; 70% National Seating & Mobility, Inc.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 0%
  • Economic Damages:

    Life care plan: $4,800,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past non-economic damages: $3,000,000 

    Future non-economic damages $2,000,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 15 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Meyers Fozi, LLP by Golnar Fozi and Jeremy Dwork, Carlsbad.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Morris Polich & Purdy LLP by Roger Perkins and Carolyn Taylor, San Diego. (For Sunrise Medical.)

    Daley & Heft by Robert Quayle and Suzana Sinatra, Solana Beach. (For National Seating.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Richard Boehme, M.D., Ph.d., neurology/biomechanics, Jacksonville Beach, FL.

    Roger Schechter, M.D., wound care, San Diego.

    Dr. Calvin Colarusso, M.D., ,psychiatry, San Diego.

    Tricia West, R.N., life care, Westlake Village.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Jerome Stenehjem, M.D., physiatry, San Diego.

    Jonathan Schleimer, M.D., neurology, San Diego.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    John Pratt, Ph.d., engineering, Laguna Niguel.

    Greg Kaseno, economics, San Diego.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    William Ammer, engineering, PA.

    Peter Axelson, biomechanics and engineering, Minden, NV.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff claimed he was injured by a Quickie Q7 manual wheelchair. The wheelchair was designed and manufactured by Sunrise Medical (US) LLC and sold/repaired by National Seating & Mobility, Inc.

    Sunrise Medical designed and launched the Quickie Q7 manual wheelchair in 2009.  At that time, bolts on the wheelchair seat frame were installed with the threaded ends facing away from the wheelchair occupant. In 2011, plaintiff purchased a Quickie Q7 after having been evaluated for a wheelchair by National Seating.

    Sunrise implemented a design change to the orientation of the backrest bolts on the Q7 in 2012 because of complaints received from the field that the bolts were backing out. The design change called for the bolts to be orientated with the threaded ends facing inward. National implemented this design change on plaintiff’s Q7 sometime in 2013 and used a 45 mm bolt instead of the 40 mm bolt called for by the Parts Manual.

    In the summer of 2014, plaintiff suffered a puncture wound in his lower extremity by one of the inward facing bolts. One month later, the wound was aggravated when a seat screw and aluminum seat rail failed, causing the seating area to collapse and eject plaintiff from his wheelchair. This incident aggravated the existing puncture wound, which has remained open for nearly three years despite medical treatment.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the Quickie Q7 manual wheelchair used by plaintiff was defective in its design, manufacture, warnings and repair.

    At trial, plaintiff presented evidence that the design change which resulted in the bolts facing inward (toward the wheelchair occupant) was dangerous and defective, and that the instructions provided to National Seating by Sunrise were inadequate and negligent. Plaintiff further presented evidence that the screws and aluminum rail used to secure the wheelchair seat were fundamentally too weak to support an average user, and that such design was also dangerous and defective.

    Although Sunrise, the manufacturer, claimed it had no prior reports of injury relating to these wheelchair components, plaintiff presented evidence at trial that Sunrise relies on dealers like National Seating to interact with consumers but does not require injury complaints to be transmitted to Sunrise. National Seating's witnesses testified they received no direction or training from Sunrise with respect to the documentation or transmission of injury reports, at any time. 

    At trial, experts testified that plaintiff's wound and nerve-related injury will require nearly $5,000,000 in future care, and may never fully resolve.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That the subject wheelchair was not defective in its design, manufacture or warnings. Also, that plaintiff was not injured by any condition of the wheelchair.

    That plaintiff’s injury is a pressure sore. Evidence was presented that plaintiff had a right leg femur fracture in 2010 requiring a metal plate and other metal hardware to be placed on his right femur. At trial, experts testified that X-rays showed calcium deposits were formed as of July 2014 from the hardware that contributed to the formation of a pressure sore on plaintiff’s upper right hamstring. Experts also testified that the pressure sore persisted due to plaintiff’s smoking, minimal treatment and paraplegic condition. Evidence from medical records was presented to show that plaintiff had experienced lower extremity spasms, depression and pain syndrome since his 2010 fracture.

    Additionally, defense experts testified that it was not possible for the bolt on the back of the wheelchair to make contact with the location of plaintiff’s pressure sore. Evidence was further presented that in an exemplar Quickie Q7 that was drop-tested over 7,000 times, the chair did not collapse and an occupant could not be ejected (as plaintiff alleged).

    Evidence was presented showing that plaintiff’s version of how the incidents occurred was not consistent with his medical records. Evidence was also presented showing plaintiff has not returned to most of his pre-2010 femur fracture activities and if his activity level has decreased, it’s due to the femur fracture and not the pressure sore.

    Defendant Sunrise Medical has sold over 45,000 manual wheelchairs with the outside-in bolt orientation of the backrest bracket bolts with no complaints of injury until plaintiff’s claim of being punctured by one of the bolts in his right lower buttock.

    Defendant Sunrise Medical contends that plaintiff misused the Q7 as he used it for weeks knowing that it was broken and the right side rail was bending and would eventually break. Sunrise Medical presented evidence that the side rail and the rearmost bolts that secure the seat sling were tested prior to use and were appropriate for this application.

     

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Lower extremity skin wound which remained open for 3 years, aggravation of nerve reflexes causing lower extremity spasms and pain syndrome. Mental health injuries and diagnoses also related to the injuries.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: Waived past medical.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $4,900,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: Not claimed.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: Not claimed.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $1,000,000 to each defendant, in 2016.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: Defendant Sunrise issued a pre-trial 998 to plaintiff for 100,000. Defendant National issued a pre-trial 998 to plaintiff for $350,000.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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