A jury in Cobb County, Georgia, outside Atlanta, returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the defendant automobile manufacturer in an alleged "seatback collapse" case involving the death of a 76 year-old Georgia woman.
Mary Reese was the restrained driver traveling eastbound at 25 miles per hour on a two-lane Georgia highway when her vehicle was struck from behind by a 58,000 pound gravel truck traveling at 45 miles per hour. The vehicle was instantaneously accelerated to 43 miles per hour and went off the roadway and down an eleven foot embankment, coming to a stop in a grove of trees more than a football field away from the impact. Though Mrs. Reese was alert and oriented immediately after the accident, she died from injuries caused by the accident 22 days later.
Her estate claimed that the driver's seat seatback collapsed in the rear impact, sending her into the rear seat where Mrs. Reese suffered an ultimately fatal brain injury and a thoracic fracture causing paralysis below her waist.
The defense proved that the seatback yielded in the accident to absorb harmful energy, and that Mrs. Reese did not strike the rear seat, nor suffered a head injury. Instead her thoracic fracture and paralysis were caused by vertical forces through her spine as the vehicle "bottomed out" in a ditch below the embankment. Her death was the likely product of complications from that injury and surgery thereafter.
Mrs. Reese's estate asked the jury to award $15 million, and additional punitive damages under Georgia law. The jury deliberated eight hours before returning a verdict for the defense.
The case was a retrial after an original jury verdict for $3 million to the plaintiff in 2007, which was reversed on appeal by the Georgia appellate court, necessitating a retrial. Donohue Brown did not handle the original trial, being asked by the defendant automobile manufacturer to handle the second trial.