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WSHB Trial Alert: Santa Monica Jury Rejects Plaintiff’s Claims for Defective Segway; Plaintiff Faces Costs Following Defense Verdict

March 26, 2014

Following a two week trial, a Santa Monica jury returned a nearly unanimous defense verdict in a closely-watched products liability case involving complex claims of design defect and failure to warn, resulting in bodily injuries, economic damages, and claims for severe emotional distress before the Honorable Bobbi Tillmon. Anne K. McIntyre, Esq. and Raffi H. Ohanian, Esq. with the law firm of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP represented the lone remaining defendant in the case at the time of trial, Urban Motion, Inc.

Plaintiff, Larissa Compton, sued Segway, Inc. and Urban Motion, Inc. for past and future medical expenses, loss of income, loss of earnings capacity, and non-economic damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress allegedly stemming from an allegedly defectively designed Segway PT (a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicle) she rented and operated along the boardwalk in Santa Monica, California.

Larissa Compton, who resides in Lawrence, Kansas, was visiting Santa Monica along with her son, when they rented two Segway PTs for the afternoon of August 21, 2010. Segway, Inc., is the manufacturer and designer of the Segway PT, while Urban Motion, an authorized dealer and retailer, also rents Segway PTs to customers, following a detailed training process all renters must go through.

On August 21, 2010, Mrs. Compton rented two Segway PTs from Urban Motion, Inc., one for herself and one for her son. Thereafter, she and her son both went through a detailed training program put on by Urban Motion regarding how to operate the Segway PT, including how to slow down and stop the machine. Once completing this nearly 30 minute training session, she read and signed an extensive rental agreement acknowledging she understood each item of operation as related to the Segway PT and had no questions. She and her son were then led down to the boardwalk by Urban Motion, Inc.’s employee and after demonstrating one final time that they both sufficiently were able to operate the Segway PTs, went off on their own.

Thereafter, about 20-30 minutes later, Mrs. Compton claims that her Segway PT experienced a phenomenon called “unanticipated acceleration” wherein her Segway PT was speeding up without her control, and there was nothing she could do to slow it down, causing her to veer to the right (to avoid colliding with her son), hitting a concrete berm and falling to the ground. As a result of injuries sustained, resulting in the need for lumbar spine surgery, Mrs. Compton claimed not only that her Segway PT was defectively designed, but she also claimed that Urban Motion, Inc. failed to properly warn her on this issue, and also failed to properly train her to shift her center of gravity back in order to slow down/stop.

By way of strategically crafted motions in limine, plaintiff was unable to present concrete evidence of prior accidents and claims relating to Segway PTs due to her failure to show that any of those prior accidents involved the claim of unintended acceleration. Moreover, plaintiff was also barred from obtaining jury instructions on a claim of manufacturing defect due to her failure to lay the necessary foundation before the court. Additionally, Urban Motion, Inc.’s various experts were able to convince the jury that the Segway PT was not defectively designed and that Urban Motion, Inc. did not fail to warn plaintiff as to the same, as well as convinced the jury that Urban Motion, Inc. did not fail to properly train plaintiff in the safe operation of the Segway. Despite her testimony to the contrary, Urban Motion, Inc. was able to establish that Plaintiff was adequately trained in order to operate the Segway PT, including slowing and stopping it, and her failure to do so at the time of the incident was due to her own rider error. After deliberating for just under four hours, the jury returned with a verdict for the Defense.

Prior to trial, Plaintiff was seeking over $1,400,000.00 to settle this matter. Defendants globally served plaintiff with Offers to Compromise totaling $200,000.00 ($100,000.00 each). On the eve of trial, plaintiff lowered her global demand to $850,000.00, but Urban Motion, Inc., aggressively refused the offer and set its sights for trial. Observing Urban Motion, Inc.’s aggressive stance, just two days into trial, plaintiff accepted an increased settlement offer from Segway, Inc. and tried the case against Urban Motion, Inc. alone. Being the lone remaining Defendant did not deter or discourage Ms. McIntyre and Mr. Ohanian from obtaining a Defense Verdict on behalf of their client.

By virtue of the Defense Verdict, the Offer to Compromise, as well as an attorneys’ fees provision contained in the rental agreement, Urban Motion, Inc. should be entitled to recover from plaintiff its attorneys’ fees and costs it has incurred in the successful defense of this matter. Ms. McIntyre credits the savvy and intelligent jury for seeing through plaintiff’s frivolous case and ultimately concluding that this unfortunate incident was caused by plaintiff’s own negligence and failure to properly follow her training.

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