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Car seat sanctions increased to $70K

A judge has upheld a jury verdict rejecting claims that the design of a child car seat led to devastating brain injury for a five-year-old girl.

While Abingdon federal Judge James P. Jones denied the girl’s motion for a new trial, he increased an award of attorneys’ fees to her lawyers based on discovery misconduct by the defendant, safety seat maker Dorel Juvenile Group Inc.

Lawyers for Samantha Musick, now eight, sought more than $200,000 in fees and expenses after Dorel lawyers “forgot” about a batch of documents that should have produced under the plaintiff’s discovery requests.

A federal magistrate judge allowed only $24, 215.85 in sanctions. Dorel protested that no sanctions at all were justified, while the plaintiff sought to increase the amount of the award.

Jones ruled post-trial that Samantha’s lawyers were entitled to an extra $45,670.85, bringing the total amount of sanctions to nearly $70,000. Jones ruled the plaintiff’s attorneys were entitled to reimbursement for expenses in bringing a motion to compel as well as the motion for sanctions.

“We are disappointed that the strategy of Plaintiffs’ counsel to demonize the defendant during discovery was successful even to this small degree, particularly when repeated misconduct of Plaintiffs’ counsel was not sanctioned despite the Court’s threat to hold them in contempt of court,” said Lynne Jones Blain, part of Dorel’s legal team.

Samantha and her family sought $50 million for brain damage she suffered in a 2009 auto accident, blaming the injury on lack of padding on a child car seat. An Abingdon federal jury found for Dorel in November. The case was noted for battles over trial evidence, discovery and damages.

Jones ruled in October that Samantha’s lawyers could present expert testimony as to her lost earning capacity, even though she was only five years old when the accident occurred.

One of Samantha’s lawyers expressed disappointment in the denial of a new trial. “This is another setback, but not the end,” said Charles H. “Trey” Smith III of Roanoke.

-By Peter Vieth

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