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Honda of America Mfg., Inc. v. Norman

Law Dictionary
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Citation. Honda of Am. Mfg. v. Norman, 104 S.W.3d 600 (Tex. App. Houston 1st Dist. Feb. 6, 2003)

Synopsis of Rule of Law. To prove a design defect, plaintiffs must show that (1) there was a safer alternative; (2) the safer alternative would have prevented or significantly reduced the risk of injury, without substantially impairing the product’s utility; (3) the safer alternative was both technologically and economically feasible when the product left the control of the manufacturer.

Facts. At 2:00 a.m. on December 2, 1992, Karen Norman attempted to back her car up to turn around and she accidentally backed down a boat ramp into the water in Galveston Bay.  Her passenger, Josel Woods, was not wearing a seat belt and was able to get out of the car by crawling out the passenger side window.  As Woods was swimming toward the ramp she heard Karen yell twice for helping, stating that she could not get out of her seatbelt.  Karen was found several hours later deceased in the back seat with blood-alcohol content of 0.17.  Karen’s 1991 Honda Civic was equipped with an automatic seatbelt that was mechanically drawn up over the shoulder when the door was closed, fastening itself with no action by the occupant.  The seatbelt was attached to a mouse that ran along a rail above the door.  The shoulder belt could be disengaged by pressing an emergency release button, but Karen’s seat was so close to the steering wheel that she could not reach the release button.  Karen’s parents sued Honda alleging that the seatbelt was defectively designed.  The jury found Karen 25% contributorily negligent and awarded damages for the remaining to the parents.  The court of appeals reversed, finding that the Normans had not proved defective design.

Issue. At 2:00 a.m. on December 2, 1992, Karen Norman attempted to back her car up to turn around and she accidentally backed down a boat ramp into the water in Galveston Bay.  Her passenger, Josel Woods, was not wearing a seat belt and was able to get out of the car by crawling out the passenger side window.  As Woods was swimming toward the ramp she heard Karen yell twice for helping, stating that she could not get out of her seatbelt.  Karen was found several hours later deceased in the back seat with blood-alcohol content of 0.17.  Karen’s 1991 Honda Civic was equipped with an automatic seatbelt that was mechanically drawn up over the shoulder when the door was closed, fastening itself with no action by the occupant.  The seatbelt was attached to a mouse that ran along a rail above the door.  The shoulder belt could be disengaged by pressing an emergency release button, but Karen’s seat was so close to the steering wheel that she could not reach the release button.  Karen’s parents sued Honda alleging that the seatbelt was defectively designed.  The jury found Karen 25% contributorily negligent and awarded damages for the remaining to the parents.  The court of appeals reversed, finding that the Normans had not proved defective design.

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