A master woodworker who was rendered quadriplegic following a November 2017 car wreck was recently awarded $976 million in damages by a jury in Philadelphia, but that dollar amount represents much more than financial compensation.
“For six years he hasn’t been home,” said attorney Kyle Farrar of Kaster Lynch Farrar & Ball, explaining his client Francis “Ru” Amagasu, 58, has had to live separately from his wife and children in a facility where he receives around-the-clock care. “Now, he can go home and get the care he needs and have a relationship with his wife and children.”
Farrar said he presented the case against Mitsubishi Motors North America to the jury — which returned its verdict Oct. 30 — as an opportunity to “send him home.”
“Obviously there were settlement negotiations before trial, but [the amount] wasn’t going to send him home permanently,” he told The Lawbook Wednesday. “Who wants to go home for five years?”
The award will enable the Amagasu family to buy a home where they can live together and will cover the cost of 24-hour care for the patriarch, Farrar said.
Mitsubishi issued a statement to The Lawbook Wednesday that the company is “very disappointed” with the verdict and “fully intends to appeal.”
“The amount of the decision is egregious, and we believe there are significant legal and evidentiary issues to be addressed on appeal,” the statement reads. “Mitsubishi Motors vehicles are and have been among the safest on the road, having won multiple safety awards to attest to that fact.”
The jury, which began hearing testimony Oct. 20, deliberated for about four hours before returning a verdict. The award included $800 million in punitive damages.
Farrar, whose firm has developed a specialty in pursuing automobile and tire defect claims, said he and his team began working on this case about six months ago and the first order of business was to set up focus groups to determine how best to present the case to a jury.
The seatbelt used in Amagasu’s 1992 Mitsubishi 3000 GT was a “rip-stitch” design, meaning that when a certain amount of force is applied to the belt during a collision, the belt is designed to rip, creating four inches of slack — the idea being to ease the passenger into the airbag rather than to tightly confine them to the seat.
The issue in this case was that there were only three inches of clearance between the roof of the car and the top of the driver’s head, Farrar said.
“So in a rollover, if there’s only three inches of clearance, four inches of slack is a problem,” he said.
In closing arguments, Farrar said he told the jury Mitsubishi had never done any rollover testing of that particular model.
“They had no idea what would happen in a rollover,” he said.
Amagasu found out for them. Due to the slack in the seatbelt, his lawyers argued at trial, his head collided with the roof of the car when it rolled upside down, which broke his neck.
The rip-stitch seatbelt design in Amagasu’s car was discontinued by Mitsubishi in 1999, Farrar said.
Amagasu comes from a family of talented woodworkers. His late grandfather, George Nakashima, has examples of his work on display in the Smithsonian, and his handcrafted benches, tables and chairs have also been featured on episodes of Antiques Roadshow.
Mitsubishi is represented by William J. Conroy and Emily J. Rogers of Campbell Trial Lawyers.
Amagasu is also represented by Wes Ball of Kaster Lynch Farrar & Ball and Daniel Sherry Jr., Nancy Winkler and Jessica Colliver of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck.
The case was litigated in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. The case number is 02406.