BURLINGTON, Vt.—A jury in Chittenden County, Vt., has awarded $43 million to a woman who became quadriplegic when her 1999 Dodge Neon car seat failed in a traffic collision. Some legal experts believe the award is the largest personal-injury award in Vermont’s history.
Essex Junction resident Dzemila Heca and her two sons, Kenan and Emir Heco, sued Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, Inc., the manufacturer of the car seat in Ms. Heco’s 1999 Dodge Neon.
According to the lawsuit, in August 2007, Ms. Heco had been stopped at a traffic light in Essex when another vehicle struck her car from behind. Ms. Heco was wearing her seatbelt at the time, but she became unrestrained, her lawsuit alleged, when her seat collapsed backward.
According to the lawsuit, what “should have been survivable without serious injuries” became a catastrophic event for Ms. Heco, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down because of the defective seat.
The jury’s $43-million award covers past medical bills, estimated future medical bills and health care, past and future loss of income, and past and future pain and suffering.
According to a report published in VTDiggers, “Vermont juries traditionally have not issued the kind of high awards seen” in other places, so the verdict’s impact on the state’s “legal landscape” remains to be seen.
One lawyer familiar with the case told VTDiggers that the jury’s large verdict in the Heco case “would certainly act as an incentive for manufacturers to ensure their products are safe for consumers.”
On the other hand, the verdict could also act as a catalyst for tort reform in Vermont, where there has been little precedent for industries to try to bar victims injured by defective products from filing lawsuits and seeking compensation for medical care and lost work.
According to VTDiggers, tort reform legislation is a stated objective of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.