Pa. Jury Awards $10M to Teen Injured Wearing Lap Belt in Crash

February 11, 2008

A Pennsylvania jury awarded $10.2 million to a teenager who was paralyzed in a drunken driving crash while wearing a lap belt in the backseat.

The belt tore into Chelsea Pursell’s abdomen, fracturing her spinal cord and causing internal injuries after the car hit a utility pole on May 28, 2004. Five teens were riding in the car when it crashed; Pursell, who turns 20 next month, was the most seriously injured.

The verdict assigned 51 percent of the liability to the driver; 39 percent to the car’s maker, Volkswagen; and 10 percent to PPL, which owns the utility pole, Pursell’s attorney said.

David Richman, an attorney who represented Volkswagen, said the company plans to appeal the verdict, issued after a jury trial that wrapped up last week.

Pursell’s attorney, Peter Hileman, acknowledged the award could be reduced on appeal.

“Just because you get a verdict doesn’t mean you get paid,” he said.

The driver, Kristofer Young, pleaded guilty in November 2004 to driving under the influence and a felony charge of DUI-related aggravated assault by motor vehicle, according to court records. His lawyer declined to comment.

Volkswagen brought PPL into the case when the company alleged that PPL’s utility pole had been placed too close to the road.

Pursell’s attorneys already had settled with PPL, so the utility cannot be held to pay that $1 million share of the verdict, Hileman said. The amount of the prior settlement, he said, was “much less than $1 million.”


Information from: Bucks County Courier Times,

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