The widow of a 39-year-old man killed when his seatbelt failed, has received a $42-million settlement from Autoliv, the world’s largest manufacturer of automotive airbags and seatbelts. This is potentially the largest judgment ever against an automotive component manufacturer for a defective seatbelt.
“Seatbelts are supposed to save lives, but the very thing that was supposed to keep Micah Andrews safe caused his death,” noted Tedra Cannella of Cannella Snyder LLC, who represented the Plaintiff at trial. “Autoliv is now indisputably on notice that it cannot bully victims and survivors and must not sell unsafe products.”
Joining Cannella on the Plantiff’s legal team were Jim Butler of Butler Prather, LLP; Rory Weeks of Weeks Law LLC; and paralegals Cathy Huff, Beth Telgenhoff, and Beth Glen of Butler Prather. Mike Terry and Frank Lowrey of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, LLP, joined on appeal.
The Court’s Final Order and Judgment:
- Granted the Plaintiff compensatory damages of $25 million (the full value of Micah Andrews’ life) and $2 million in compensatory damages for pain and suffering, with 50% of the fault attributed to seatbelt manufacturer Autoliv.
- Awarded pre-judgment interest of $4.7 million because Autoliv turned down a demand in 2016 to resolve the case for less than the ultimate verdict.
- Found that Autoliv’s conduct “showed that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences” and noted Autoliv’s corporate representative “twice admitted that refusing to avoid the foreseeable when opportunities exist to do so is, as a practical matter, the equivalent of intentional misconduct.” Order at 83.
- Imposed punitive damages of $100 million. Under Georgia law, punitive damages are uncapped in product liability cases, but 75% of the damages go to the State of Georgia—after the plaintiff receives all compensatory damages.
The Plaintiff’s resolution of the case leaves in place the Court’s Order finding the seatbelt defective and its factual findings about Autoliv’s egregious conduct.
Overview of the Case
Micah Andrews was killed in April 2013 after swerving to avoid an object in the I-575 roadway. He ran off a steep shoulder and head-on into a small group of trees. Both of his 2005 Mazda 3’s restraint systems failed. The Autoliv seatbelt, the primary restraint, spooled out 20 inches during the accident, allowing Andrews’ face to hit the steering wheel hub and fracturing his skull. Mazda was responsible for the airbag, the secondary restraint, which also failed to deploy. Andrews died at the scene.
Details of Court Proceedings
The case was originally filed in Fulton County State Court in 2014 before Autoliv and Mazda removed the case to federal court. The automaker ultimately settled in 2016 on confidential terms. Autoliv persisted, offering no more than $200,000 to settle before the verdict. The Plaintiff rejected Autoliv’s settlement offer.
Under O.C.G.A. § 9-11-68(a-d), Autoliv moved to make the Plaintiff pay its attorneys’ fees as part of their motion for summary judgment, which was granted by then-judge William Duffey. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed and vacated Autoliv’s grant of summary judgment. Duffey soon retired and the case was assigned to Judge Steve C. Jones of the Northern District of Georgia.
That case was tried in October 2021 and Jones handed down the $127-million bench verdict in January 2022.[i] Autoliv launched an appeal in November 2022, eventually abandoning it. The State of Georgia was uninvolved before filing a post-trial motion claiming a portion of the $100-million punitive damages award. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 51-12.5.1 (e)(2), 75% of any judgment for punitive damages actually collected goes to the State.
This escheat provision allows product manufacturers to obtain immunity for a product found to be defective—even though it still endangers Georgia citizens. Once one judgment for punitive damages is collected in Georgia for a particular product, the manufacturer is unfortunately immune from any further punitive damages verdicts for that same product. The jury is not told that its verdict will be the only punitive judgment for the manufacturer’s acts. Autoliv ultimately paid the State of Georgia $14 million, even though Plaintiff vigorously disputed the State’s claim against the verdict.
The settlements were paid in July 2023.
[i] The actual named defendant at trial was Autoliv Japan, LTD, but as the Court found that entity was a subsidiary of the multinational corporation Autoliv, Inc. and that “Autoliv has ignored formal divisions among corporate Autoliv entities.” Final Order and Judgment at 91. The defendant’s own corporate representative at trial was not an employee of “Autoliv Japan LTD” but of another Autoliv, Inc. subsidiary. Order at 94. The design for the seatbelt component at issue in the case came from yet another Autoliv Inc. subsidiary. Order at 92.