MAPC Lawyers Publish “$21 Million Product Defect Award Upheld against Land Rover for Rollover Injury”

By Joshua R. Dale

The Second District Court of Appeal (Los Angeles) upheld a trial court’s bench ruling awarding Sukhsagar Pannu $21,654,000 in damages as a result of him being paralyzed in a roll-over collision in his 1998 Land Rover Discovery.  Pannu was struck from behind while traveling on the freeway, causing his Land Rover to hit another vehicle and then roll.  Pannu successfully claimed that his quadriplegia was caused by a defect in the Land Rover’s roof design, which through medical and forensic expert testimony, he demonstrated deflected more than 15 inches when the vehicle rolled.  Further, his experts were able to show that by widening the stance of the Land Rover by 1 ½ inches at each wheel and lowering the center of gravity half an inch through use of lower profile tires, the vehicle was much less likely to roll when the steering wheel was turned back and forth as a driver attempted to maintain control of the vehicle.  Pannu’s experts also showed that $76 worth of reinforcing materials in the roof would have limited the roof’s deflection to 3 inches.

Land Rover unsuccessfully argued at trial that its vehicle flipped over not as a result of Pannu’s back and forth movements of the steering wheel as he attempted to maintain control of the vehicle, but were caused by the vehicle’s wheel hitting a curb at the center divider.  The appellate court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding Land Rover’s expert’s testimony on this issue to be unsupported, and that other eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence supporting Pannu’s version of how the rollover was caused.  The appellate court also found it appropriate and within the court’s discretion that the trial court excluded evidence of prior rollover tests conducted by General Motors and Ford, which supported Land Rover’s theory that the cause of Pannu’s paralysis was not the amount of deflection of the roof during the rollover, but was due to the initial shock of the roof hitting the ground, which no amount of additional materials in the roof could have prevented. 

Finally, the court concluded that the trial court’s calculation of Pannu’s loss of earnings was appropriate, rejecting Land Rover’s claims that Pannu’s future earnings should have been based upon Pannu being a mere store manager, who could be replaced through other family members or employees.   The appellate court agreed with the trial court’s assessment, that Pannu, who owned or managed four franchises and had been approved for a fifth, provided more than just managerial skills to his businesses, and that the trial court had properly considered this additional entrepeneurial skill in making the award.

Pannu v. Land Rover North America, Inc.  (2d Dist., Jan. 19, 2011) Case No. B218173

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