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A design defect in the American version of Nissan’s 1995 Maxima GXE has cost the automaker $14.4 million in compensation for a New Jersey man seriously injured while driving one. On Oct. 31, 1997, William Ziemer, then 45, was driving on a two-lane road in Bernardsville, N.J., when Emmanuel Gergatsoulis, who was heading in the opposite direction, passed out at the wheel of his 1990 Ford Mustang, drifted into Ziemer’s lane and hit him head-on. Both were traveling at around 45 mph when they collided and both suffered multiple fractures and orthopedic injuries requiring immediate hospitalization. In addition to fracturing bones in his legs, Ziemer suffered severe brain damage. He is partially blind, cannot walk and has “the mentality of a 5-year-old child,” according to his attorney, Cynthia A. Walters. Gergatsoulis’ carrier immediately paid his policy to Ziemer and so he was not sued. Ziemer, his wife and their three sons, ages 6, 10 and 12 at the time of the accident, sued Nissan, alleging that a defect in the car caused Ziemer to be propelled forward rather than keeping him restrained. They also pointed out that a safety feature present on the European version of the 1995 Maxima GXE would have prevented Ziemer’s brain injuries. The design element at issue was the car’s sill, the lower edge of the body that runs from the front wheel well to the rear. The plaintiffs alleged that it “accordianed,” compromising the structural integrity of the floor plate, bending and twisting the mounts for the driver’s seat and throwing Ziemer forward. The Ziemers alleged that the same car was being sold in Europe with a 3-inch-wide, 19-inch-long structural support along the sill, a feature added to the American model the following year. “When a manufacturer sells a car, they must be sure that it is crashworthy,” Walters said. Nissan argued that Ziemer’s injuries were not the result of a design defect, but were due to the severity of the crash. A spokesperson for Nissan said the company stands behind the Maxima and its safety record and plans to ask for a new trial. Plaintiff’s attorney: Cynthia A. Walters of Budd Larner Gross Rosenbaum Greenberg & Sade, Short Hills, N.J. Defense attorneys: Gerard Cedrone and William J. Ricci of Lavin, Coleman, O’Neil, Ricci, Finarelli & Gray, Mt. Laurel, N.J.

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