Bernal v. Daewoo
This case arises out of a terrible rollover auto accident that cost Dolores Pacheco her life and left her son-in-law, Manuel Bernal, with catastrophic injuries. Dolores, who was sitting in the rear-side seat of a 2000 Daewoo Leganza manufactured by defendant Daewoo Motor Company Inc. was killed when she was ejected from the rear-side window, which shattered upon impact with the ground when the car flipped over. Manuel, the driver, was trapped in his seat when the roof of the car collapsed during the crash, crushing his head and neck and causing permanent and life-altering injuries.
Manuel and his wife Paula Bernal, surviving daughter of Dolores Pacheco, sued Daewoo for personal injury and wrongful-death/survivor damages on the grounds that (1) the roof was insufficiently strong to withstand a rollover crash; and (2) the side windows were made of tempered glass, which shatters on impact, rather than some form of “advanced glazing” (e.g., laminated glass), which minimizes passenger ejection.
Daewoo moved for partial summary judgment on the side-window claims, arguing that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 205, which gives vehicle manufacturers the option of using either tempered or laminated glass in the side windows of passenger cars and trucks, would be undermined by a jury verdict in the plaintiffs’ favor. Several state supreme courts have found federal preemption based on the fact that, in 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration affirmatively decided not to amend Standard 205 to require the use of laminated glass in all passenger side windows based on a concern that laminated glass might increase the risk of “neck shear” injuries. Other courts — most notably, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in O’Hara vs. General Motors — have rejected federal preemption, finding that there is no conflict between “no-glazing” claims and federal law.
Public Justice Senior Attorney Leslie Brueckner is lead counsel with regard to the federal preemption defense; Staff Attorney Matt Wessler is co-counsel; and Julio Zapata of Phoenix, Ariz., is lead trial counsel.