— Audi and Volkswagen, manufacturers of the 2005 Audi A4 Quattro, will pay a jury award of $124.5 million after the automaker was sued in a Texas court. The lawsuit was filed by the family of an 11-year-old boy who was seriously injured in a rear-end crash.
The accident occurred on December 18, 2012, when Jesse Rivera Sr. stopped the Audi A4 Quattro to wait for a school bus that was stopped to pick up children. His son was sitting directly behind him when the Audi was hit from behind, causing Mr. Rivera Sr. to fly backward as the seatback collapsed.
Rivera Sr. suffered head injuries when his head hit his son's head, but it was Jesse Jr. who suffered the real damage. The accident caused the boy, then age 7, to suffer partial blindness, a skull fracture with permanent brain damage and partial paralysis.
The jury ruled the design and manufacturing of the A4 Quattro was defective and caused the seatback to collapse, striking and injuring the boy.
However, attorneys for Audi say the seats worked as designed in a crash by collapsing to absorb the crash energy. Further, an Audi engineer went on to say the design of the car allows the rear passenger to support the seatback with their knees and the seats met or exceeded federal safety standards.
The lawsuit claims seatback tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are outdated and inadequate to protect passengers. The current standard is decades old and NHTSA considered updating the regulations in 2004, but safety regulators said the data wasn't available.
NHTSA said at the time it couldn't justify the cost to make regulatory changes without real-world data to show the benefits of updating the seatback standards.
Audi and Volkswagen argued the dad was responsible for any injuries to his son because the boy should have been in a child seat. In addition, Audi points out neither the driver nor the injured boy were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.
However, jurors found the driver who hit the Audi 25 percent responsible for the crash, Rivera Sr. was found 20 percent responsible and Audi/Volkswagen were hit for 55 percent liability. Because the ruling says Audi and VW are more than 50 percent liable in the crash, the automakers will pay the entire $124.5 million under Texas law.
The damages are to be used to cover the boy's disfigurement, physical problems and medical care that will be required all his life.
Center for Auto Safety Files Seatback Petition
The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) has petitioned NHTSA to “take action to protect children riding in the rear seats of vehicles from the risk of being killed or severely injured when struck by a collapsing front seatback in a rear-end crash.”
CAS says federal standards are inadequate and should be updated to reflect the poor performance of seatbacks in a crash.
Included in the petition are documents called “Collapsing Seatbacks And Injury Causation: A Timeline Of Knowledge,” which describe “the history of manufacturer and NHTSA inaction to ensure that in rear-end crashes, front seats provide adequate protection not only for their occupants but for people in the rear seats behind them.”
The petition asks NHTSA to provide parents with the following warning:
"If Possible, Children Should Be Placed In Rear Seating Positions Behind Unoccupied Front Seats. In Rear-End Crashes, The Backs Of Occupied Front Seats Are Prone To Collapse Under The Weight Of Their Occupants. If This Occurs, The Seat Backs And Their Occupants Can Strike Children In Rear Seats And Cause Severe Or Fatal Injuries."
Although not of an Audi vehicle, this video shows what can happen when a seatback collapses in a rear-end crash.