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Woman Paralyzed in Crash Wins $37.6 Million Judgement Against Honda Over Seat Belt Design

A Texas jury awarded Sarah Milburn over $37.6 million in her lawsuit against Honda over the design of the seatbelts in the 2011 Odyssey, reports Dallas News. The 27-year-old’s lawyer argued that the seatbelt design itself was flawed, contributing to the injuries she sustained in a 2015 crash in Dallas, Texas.

Milburn, who is now a quadriplegic with only limited use of her arms and hands, sustained a spinal injury when her Uber driver ran a red light and was struck by a pickup truck.

Her lawyer pointed out that the two-part belt system Milburn used in the Odyssey was unfamiliar to most people, and hard to use. She was riding in the middle of the third row, reports Dallas News. The center third row seat belt is hidden in the roof of the minivan, and riders must first latch the belt itself to the seat, then pull over another buckle to secure it in place as a lap and shoulder belt would normally sit.

This kind of ceiling-mounted seat belt is fairly common in similar vehicles to the Odyssey that want to provide a middle seat without having a belt system that’s too difficult to stow away, so the implications of this judgement could affect more automakers than just Honda.

An expert who testified during Milburn’s trial said that less than 10 percent of those who were unfamiliar with the belt like Milburn used were able to figure out how to use it properly, the Dallas News reports.

Honda said in a prepare statement given to the Dallas News that the company plans to appeal:

The design of the seat belt system for the middle passenger in the third row seat in the 2011 Odyssey complies with all applicable federal safety standards and is similar in design to virtually all comparable minivans of this vintage. If it had been worn properly in this crash, the plaintiff would have suffered no serious injuries.

The company claims that it are not liable for Milburn’s injuries as the belts met federal safety standards, and alleges that if it had been worn properly, it would have performed better in the crash.

In this ruling, however, the jury refuted Honda’s claim that meeting federal safety standards should absolve them from responsibility in Milburn’s injuries. Per court documents obtained by the Dallas News, the jury found that federal safety regulations don’t go far enough in to protect the public from harm when it comes to unusual designs like this. The family hopes that this ruling will lead to an improved law that would outlaw similar seat belt designs that are difficult to use.