Mazda's design of driver seat determined to be substantial cause of injuries. $14.9 million. Alameda County.


Driver's seatback fails in '95 Mazda Protege when rearended by truck. 

The Case

  • Case Name: Gray v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc.
  • Court and Case Number: Alameda County Superior Court / RG14723293
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, April 01, 2016
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, April 29, 2014
  • Type of Case: Products Liability, Vehicles – rear-ender
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Dennis Hayashi
  • Plaintiffs:
    Marcia Gray, 39
    Don Gray
  • Defendants:
    Mazda Motor of America, Inc.
    Jose Alfresco, defendant driver
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $14,967,421
  • Net Verdict or Award: $14,967,421
  • Settlement Amount: N/A
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    55% against Mazda Motor of America, Inc.; 45% against Jose Alfresco

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $5,000,000 and $1,000,000 for loss of consortium.

  • Punitive Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 11 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 1/2 days
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: To be determined.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Veen Firm by Craig M. Peters and David L. Winnett, San Francisco.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Becherer Kannett & Schweitzer by Patrick Becherer and Emily Bergstrom, Emeryville.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Alex Barchuk, M.D., physical medicine and rehabilitation, San Francisco.

    Fernando G. Miranda, M.D., neurology, San Francisco.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):


  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Steven E. Meyer, P.E., seat design/accident reconstruction, Goleta.

    Tracy D. Albee, P.H.N., B.S.N., R.N., life care planning, Tracy.

    Joseph L. Burton, M.D., injury biomechanics, Alpharetta, GA.

    Maria Toyofuku-Brady, M.S., CRC, CLCP, vocational rehabilitaion, Oakland.

    Robert D. Johnson, C.P.A., C.F.E., economics, Los Altos.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Greg Stephens, P.E., accident reconstruction, Gig Harbor, WA.

    Edward A. Moffatt, Ph.D., biomechanics, Orinda.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    The case arose from a multi-vehicle crash that occurred on April 30, 2012, at I-580 westbound heading onto I-980 westbound in Oakland. Plaintiff Marcia Gray was driving alone in her 1995 Mazda Protégé. She braked suddenly to stop for a collision that had occurred ahead of her. She was subsequently rear-ended by a one-ton Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup truck driven by defendant Jose Alfresco.

    The impact from Mr. Alfresco’s truck forced her into a Ford Ranger pickup truck that had stopped ahead of her. As a result of the rear impact, plaintiff’s seat back collapsed rearward. Mr. Alfresco’s truck intruded into the rear seating area of the Protégé, causing the intruding metal to crush the seatback and causing plaintiff to suffer massive injuries.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    As to defendant Alfresco, negligent driving.

    As to defendant Mazda, negligent design.  

    Plaintiff introduced a Mazda-produced crash test video from 1995 that had been made to show a test of the fuel tank integrity. In the video, the front seats, loaded with dummies, began to collapse into the rear seats at a ΔV of 19 mph.

    Plaintiff contended the video demonstrated that Ms. Gray’s seat began collapsing backward early in the crash, causing her to ramp upward out of her seat and placing her in the path of the intrusion from Mr. Alfresco's truck, which ultimately caused the seat to fold her forward like a clamshell, compressing her torso and causing her severe injuries.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Mazda blamed Mr. Alfresco for the crash and took the position that the car, rather than exacerbating Ms. Gray’s injuries, actually saved her life. Mazda also argued that the truck actually hit the Mazda twice and that the injuries were caused by the back seat of the car intruding into the backside of the driver's seat in the second impact.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    The impact generated sufficient force to fracture 13 ribs and cause a burst fracture to L5, leaving Ms. Gray an incomplete paraplegic with a spinal fusion, cauda equina syndrome, adhesive arachnoiditis, and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

  • Past and future lost earnings capacity, past and future life care and medical expenses.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $426,965
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $5,242,761
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $47,740
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $3,255,197

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $3.5 million just before trial.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $12,500 just before trial.