A Los Angeles court awarded a $25 million verdict against Nissan stemming from a fatal 2012 crash caused by a critical failure in the braking system of a 2004 Infiniti QX56 SUV. The plaintiffs – Hilario Cruz, Araceli Mendez, and Solomon Mathenge – were represented by attorneys F. Jerome Tapley, Ryan Lutz, Brett Turnbull and Adam Pittman of Cory Watson. P.C.
Additional representation for the plaintiffs was provided by Paul Kiesel, Steven Archer and Bryan Garcia of Kiesel Law LLP, Kirk Wolden of Carter Wolden, as well as Claudia C. Bohorquez and Vicki I. Sarmiento.
The case began in 2012 when the Infiniti’s driver Mathenge collided with a minivan carrying his young daughters, as well as their mother, in a Hollywood intersection. All three of the van’s occupants were killed in the crash.
Initially, law enforcement officials placed the blame for the crash on Mathenge, who was driving with a suspended license at the time of the accident. Charges for vehicular manslaughter were eventually filed against him, though Mathenge claimed that a sudden failure of his brakes was responsible for the deadly crash.
However, prosecutors on that case noted similarities between the sort of brake failure Mathenge claimed to have experienced with those identified in a federal class action lawsuit against Nissan. In the federal suit, drivers of mid-to-late 2000’s models of the Nissan Titan, Nissan Armada, and Infiniti QX56 claimed to have experienced sudden braking failures while driving. Nissan settled the matter (Banks v. Nissan) in 2014.
In that suit, plaintiffs alleged that the delta stroke sensor – an integral electronic component of the affected vehicles’ braking systems – was defective across thousands of Nissan cars.
After these findings the prosecution dropped the manslaughter charges against Mathenge, who then joined a pre-existing civil suit against Nissan brought by plaintiffs Hilario Cruz and Araceli Mendez, fellow survivors from Mathenge’s 2014 accident.
In the civil suit, attorneys for Mathenge, Cruz, and Mendez argued that Nissan had been aware of the deadly flaw in their vehicles’ braking systems but failed to take action to prevent potentially fatal accidents such as a recall or repair program.
According to the complaint, “Rather than disclose this critical safety defect and recall the defective vehicles as it should have done, Nissan made a conscious decision to ignore the problem at the expense of the safety of its customers, those operating the defective vehicles, and the public at large.”
Nissan countered that the brakes on the plaintiff’s vehicle were in fact safe, and that the accident was caused by the plaintiff’s careless driving.