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Trull v. Volkswagen of America, Inc.

New Hampshire Supreme Court
761 A.2d 477 (2000)


Facts

While traveling on an ice and snow-covered road in New Hampshire, David Trull lost control of the family’s Volkswagen Vanagon when it traversed a patch of black ice and collided with an oncoming vehicle. David’s wife, Elizabeth, and the couple’s young son Nathaniel suffered severe brain injuries as a result. The couple’s other young son, Benjamin, died. Nathaniel and Benjamin were seated in the Vanagon’s rear middle bench seat which was equipped only with lap seatbelts, not shoulder straps. The Trulls (plaintiffs) filed a negligence and strict liability suit in federal district court seeking damages against the vehicle’s manufacturer, Volkswagen of America, Inc. (Volkswagen) (defendant). The Trulls based their suit on two theories of recovery, namely (1) that the Vanagon was defective because it lacked sufficient protection against a frontal impact and (2) that the vehicle was defective because the rear bench seats did not have shoulder safety belts in addition to the lap belts. After a trial, the jury held for Volkswagen. The Trulls appealed. The court of appeals granted a motion by the Trulls to certify a question to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, namely to determine which party under state law bears the burden of segregating the injuries caused by a vehicle’s design defect in a “crashworthiness” case.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Nadeau, J.)

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  • A "yes" or "no" answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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