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A Fourth of July accident that left one young girl dead and another seriously injured has resulted in a verdict that places most of the blame on a judgment-proof defendant, despite the plaintiffs’ attempt to shift liability to a car rental agency. Tanya Whitaker rented a 1999 Chevy Blazer from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and, accompanied by five passengers, drove into a Des Moines, Iowa, neighborhood known for its “firework wars.” Whitaker’s fianc�, Tyson Wells; his brother and sister, Teondra and Doug Wells; and friends O’Keitha Nelson and Shunntae Averette, rode together through the neighborhood while Tyson and Doug Wells shot bottle rockets from the car windows at other revelers. According to Rodney K. Maharry, attorney for Teondra and Doug Wells, Tyson Wells was attempting to shoot a bottle rocket when it exploded, igniting Roman candles and other fireworks inside the car. Five of the passengers escaped; however, Doug Wells suffered burns over 23 percent of his body and Teondra Wells was burned over 60 percent of hers. Averette, 15, did not survive; her estate settled with the driver’s insurer prior to trial. Teondra, Doug, their mother and Teondra’s infant child sued Whitaker and Enterprise for negligence under Iowa’s consent statute, which holds a vehicle owner liable for any damages caused by the negligence of the driver. Enterprise argued that, under the statute, damages must be caused by the vehicle and in this case, they were caused by the fireworks. The judge submitted a special interrogatory on the issue and the jury agreed that the car had not caused the damages. Enterprise also brought Tyson Wells into the case as a defendant. On Oct. 15, the jury found the driver 20 percent liable and Tyson Wells, who is in jail on unrelated charges, 80 percent liable. The jury awarded $3.18 million, including $2.95 million to Teondra. Plaintiffs’ attorney: Rodney K. Maharry of Williams, Blackburn, Hudson & Maharry in Des Moines. Defense attorneys: Roy M. Irish of Patterson, Lorentzen, Duffield, Timmons, Irish, Becker & Ordway in Des Moines; Mark David Lowe and Thomas P. Murphy of Hopkins & Huebner in Des Moines.

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