Sued for a Fatal Car Crash?
How can star's kin sue Porsche? Here's how.
The teen daughter of the late Paul Walker has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Porsche, the maker of the car that the “Fast and Furious” film star was riding in when it plowed into a concrete lamppost, bursting into flames.
Investigators concluded the Porsche was going as fast as 94 mph in a 45-mph zone when it crashed, but the lawsuit claims the high-tech car was traveling 63 to 71 mph when it spun out of control.
The lawsuit contends the automaker failed to include a stabilization sensor system on the 2004 Carrera GT model.
Either way, how can family members sue a car company when a crash is apparently caused by excessive speed and poor driving?
Here’s how. The lawsuit contends the automaker failed to include a stabilization sensor system on the 2004 Carrera GT model. Meadow Walker, in a lawsuit filed by a guardian because she is 16, also claims that the car’s seat belt system trapped the actor in his seat, leaving him with broken ribs and pelvis as he burned alive along with driver Roger Rodas trapped inside the mangled vehicle.
Her lawsuit contends there was soot found in Walker’s trachea, due to the fire, which the lawsuit notes didn’t break out until about a minute and 20 seconds after impact.
The lawsuit says the automaker was aware that the Carrera GT had issues with control and instability, but failed to offer protections that are standard on other styles of Porsches, including a crucial Porsche Stability Management System. It also alleges the car had insufficient side-door reinforcements and inadequate fuel-line protections designed to keep fires from occurring after impact.
Walker, who was 40 when he died, had publicly called the Porsche Carrera GT “my dream car,” in eerie footage posted online after his wreck.
Noted Jeff Milam, an attorney representing Meadow Walker in the case, to the celebrity website TMZ.com: “The bottom line is that the Porsche Carrera GT is a dangerous car. It doesn’t belong on the street. And we shouldn’t be without Paul Walker or his friend, Roger Rodas.”
But Porsche said in a statement that “we believe the authorities’ reports in this case clearly established that this tragic crash resulted from reckless driving and excessive speed.”
Walker, who was 40 when he died, had publicly called the Porsche Carrera GT “my dream car,” in eerie footage posted online after his wreck. The rare car — fewer than 1,300 were made — is known to be difficult to handle, even among professional drivers, and was equipped with three times the horsepower of an average car, according to Autoweek magazine. The car, the publication said, sold new for $450,000.
The rare car — fewer than 1,300 were made — is known to be difficult to handle, even among professional drivers, and was equipped with three times the horsepower of an average car.
San Diego-based trial lawyer Craig McClellan, who won a previous settlement in a lawsuit against Porsche that forced the company to provide warnings and training for future owners, said there is no question Rodas is responsible for speeding.
But McClellan said an automaker also bears responsibility for certain safety features that should — and typically do — go into a high-speed cars like a Porsche. He said many Porsche cars to have a stabilization system and other features that would have helped in the Walker crash, but this model, the Carrera GT, does not.
McClellan said there is a body of law and legal definition in these cases for vehicles called “crash-worthiness.” Explained simply, it suggests that a vehicle should be designed to protect occupants in foreseeable kinds of crashes — because high-speed cars often crash.
“This is really a race car on the street. It’s designed to go fast. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have enough design to protect occupants,” he said.
“It does not surprise me that a lawyer in California is willing to say a speeding driver is not responsible for a speeding accident and to turn around and blame the manufacturer of the car.”
What’s more, Porsche paid about $350,000 in a similar lawsuit involving a 2005 model Carrera GT. Two men died in that car on a race track, smashing into a wall at about 100 mph to avoid a collision with another car.
The families of the men who were killed sued for gross negligence, winning a $4.5 million settlement that included the damages levied on Porsche.
On the other hand, the driver bears at least some responsibility, and should have known the limitations of the high-powered car. TMZ posted online a copy of a May 2004 memo sent to some Porsche dealers in the U.S. that described the vehicle as close to a race car with great sensitivity, making it difficult to take on the road.
In it, Porsche wrote: “This vehicle is very sophisticated and requires some planning before it arrives in your stores. Please pass on to the sales department the importance of who drives this vehicle. … This car cannot go over a speed bump without damage … this car cannot go over a Fosters beer can that is lying on its side.”
It added: “The GT is as close to a race car as we will ever get.”
California is home to too many frivolous lawsuits, said Kim Stone of the Civil Justice Institute of California. She said she is not familiar with the details of the Walker case. But, Stone said, it’s not the first time she’s heard of a driver in a wreck suing the manufacturer of the car — even when the accident involved alcohol.
“Most people would say that if you are speeding and involved in a crash, it’s your fault. But it does not surprise me that a lawyer in California is willing to say a speeding driver is not responsible for a speeding accident and to turn around and blame the manufacturer of the car,” she said.
“Our state is sadly quite unbalanced in its administration of justice. Our rules are set up for be more pro-plaintiff and pro-lawyer than even the federal government.”