RACINE — A Racine man who was paralyzed after a Caledonia crash in 2015 was awarded a $38.1 million verdict by 12 Racine County jurors Wednesday, after they agreed that the seat in the man’s 2013 Hyundai Elantra caused the bulk of his injuries.
It’s a moment that 67-year-old Edward Vanderventer has been waiting for since July 31, 2015 — the day of the crash.
“I’m very happy with the sense of justice the jury showed and the outcome,” Vanderventer said. “I’m grateful to the jury and judge for how everything turned out, and to my lawyer and his staff. I’m very, very pleased.”
While waiting to make a turn on Highway 38, south of Six Mile Road near Christie Circle, Vanderventer was rear-ended by another vehicle driven by a 17-year-old girl.
In a civil suit filed in April 2016 against Hyundai and the driver, Vanderventer’s attorney — Tim Trecek of Habush, Habush and Rottier’s Milwaukee office — argued that the bulk of Vanderventer’s injuries were caused by his vehicle’s seat, claiming that a post from the seat severed his spine.
“Our theory is that she (the driver) caused the accident, but didn’t cause his injuries,” Trecek said. “We allege that his injuries were caused by a defect of design in the 2013 Hyundrai Elantra seat frame. Had the seat been designed correctly, they would have exchanged information and walked away and that would have been it.”
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Hyundai argued that Vanderventer’s severe injuries were the result of the rear-end crash, combined with a degenerative spinal condition.
Enhanced injury case
Trecek said that cases like this, called an enhanced injury case, are often “difficult and expensive” to prove.
Enhanced injury claims are used “when a plaintiff is involved in an accident and his or her injuries sustained in the accident are made worse than they otherwise would have been because of a defective product or the negligence of the enhanced injury defendant,” according to the Wisconsin Defense Council.
During the 18-day trial, which took place in the courtroom of Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz, both sides argued their point, with jurors hearing the testimony of more than 20 witnesses, including medical and seat design experts from all over the country.
The jury began its deliberations at 9 a.m. Wednesday. At approximately 2:30 p.m., the jurors came back with their verdict — Vanderventer was entitled to $38.1 million for his injuries.
The jury found that Vanderventer’s injuries were 16% due to the initial impact and 84% due to the defective seat. As part of a settlement, the 16% will not be recouped, leaving Hyundai responsible to pay 84% of the $38.1 million verdict to Vanderventer.
“To have this kind of verdict makes me feel very good about the civil justice system and the jury system,” Trecek said.
When asked what he plans to do with the money, Vanderventer said: “Well, we haven’t gotten it yet. It’s easy to dream about what you are going to do. Nothing concrete.”
"I'm very happy with the sense of justice the jury showed and the outcome. I'm grateful to the jury and to the judge for how everything turned out, and to my lawyer and his staff. I'm very very pleased."
— Edward Vanderventer