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Nissan settles air bag lawsuit

Associated Press | October 23, 1998

A woman who claimed she was blinded by the air bag in her Nissan Altima settled her federal lawsuit against the automaker for an undisclosed amount Thursday, a day after the case went to trial.

Norma Swanson, who suffered her injury in December 1995, alleged Nissan knew the passenger side air bags in 1994 Altimas struck people in the face before they inflated, but the company went ahead and sold the car anyway.

Her attorney, Lawrence Baron, said at least 23 other people have suffered serious eye injuries or been blinded across the country Swanson's was the first such lawsuit against the Japanese automaker to go to trial, Other lawsuits have been settled out of court.

"It was extremely scary to be faced with total blindness after spending your whole life seeing," said Swanson, 37. "It's very intimate and emotional when you lose it. I just can't describe it."

Neither side would discuss the amount of the settlement, which was offered by the company after opening statements.

Nissan Motor Corp. spokeswoman Debra Sanchezfair said the compiny had argued the driver of the car was to blame.

"While Ms. Swanson's injury was tragic, the fact is she would have avoided any injury had it not been for the reckless and potentially lethal driving by her friend," Sanchezfair said.

Swanson said she was a passenger in her 1994 Altima when a friend, who was driving, made a turn on a road to an oceanfront viewpoint near Neskowin, Ore., and struck a curb at about 15mph, setting off both airbags.

The driver was unhurt, but Swanson said she suffered a broken nose and was completely blind.

"Ihere was a lot of heat rushing to the back of my head," Swanson said in an interview from her attorney's office. "It was intense pain."

After several days in various hospitals and dozens of examinations by specialists, Swanson said she was told she may never see again. She was single, with two chlldren to support, and her closest family was in Michigan.

When they sent me home, they said we've done all we can do for you," Swanson said.

Swanson, who works as an apartment manager in Portland, has recovered partial vision in both eyes, but remains at risk of blindness from minor injury or disease.

Sanchesfair said that Nissan made about 250,000 Altimas in 1994 and 1995 but there has never been a recall for the passenger-side air bag. She noted the model passed all federal safety standards and performed well in the government's new assessment program tests.

"Nissan takes its commitment to product safety and customer satisfaction very seriously," Sanchezfair said.