News & Insights

Dykema Successfully Defends Key Safety Systems, Inc. in Product Liability Case

Jury Returns Defense Verdict in Favor of Manufacturer Regarding Alleged Defective Seatbelt

November 8, 2012

DETROIT—Dykema, a leading national law firm, has successfully represented Key Safety Systems, Inc., a global leader in the design, development and manufacturing of automotive safety-critical components and systems, in a product liability case. On November 8, a Mobile, AL jury returned the defense verdict in favor of Key Safety Systems, rejecting the product liability claims filed by the plaintiff.

Plaintiffs Patricia Harman and her son Noah Harman suffered injuries following a rollover automobile accident involving a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country minivan. Harman lost control of her van while traveling 65-70 MPH outside of Mobile, AL. The vehicle rolled over three times, Harman was ejected from the van, and she sustained a neck fracture and other injuries when she contacted the ground. She was six months pregnant at the time of the accident and as a result of her injuries her son Noah was born prematurely and with cerebral palsy.

The plaintiffs claimed that defects in the seatbelt supplied by Key Safety Systems to Chrysler caused the buckle to unlatch and allowed Harman to be ejected from the minivan. The plaintiffs alleged that the buckle, with a larger button positioned above the cover, was defectively designed because it was prone to inadvertent contact or could be unintentionally put into a condition that allowed the buckle to unlatch during an accident. Plaintiffs sought recovery of $22 million for future medical and life care expenses, plus a multiple of that amount for pain, suffering, and other alleged noneconomic damages.

Key Safety Systems contended that proper design considerations, as well as federal safety standards, required a buckle to be accessible and that any accessible buckle could be inadvertently contacted in a severe multiple rollover accident.

“This accident and the injuries that occurred were clearly unfortunate, but the cause was not related to a malfunction in the seat belt buckle produced by Key Safety Systems,” said Michael P. Cooney, lead counsel for Key Safety Systems and the head of Dykema’s Automotive and Product Liability Practice Group. “The jury recognized that automotive engineers often have to balance competing factors to produce an overall safe design. We are happy to have worked alongside Key Safety System to defend these charges.”

Cooney tried the case with Brian Smith from Dykema and Jeff Ash of Huie, Fernambucq & Stewart.

With more than 85 years of experience representing companies in the automotive industry, Dykema has one of the most extensive automotive legal practices in the United States. Dykema lawyers regularly represent automotive companies headquartered throughout the world. The Dykema Automotive Industry Group professionals counsel automakers and suppliers in important industry areas such as antitrust, securities, collaboration, cross- border mergers and acquisitions, as well as in a broad array of automobile product liability, commercial and supply chain management litigation, and in class action litigation in the most challenging jurisdictions, and before the U.S. Department of Transportation and other federal and state departments and agencies. For more information on Dykema’s Automotive Industry Group, please visit