Trials & Litigation
Lawyer Accused of Courtroom Seat-Belt Stunt Cites Age, Avoids Sanctions
Posted Mar 25, 2010 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A South Carolina lawyer accused of secretly staging a courtroom stunt to demonstrate an alleged design flaw in a Kia seat belt won’t be sanctioned for his actions.
Lawyer J. Kendall Few avoided penalty after arguing that a long day and his advanced age may have led him to forget to put the seat belt back where it belonged on a Kia exhibit, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry of Pittsburgh said in a March 17 opinion (PDF) that the case was a "close call." But he said there was no conclusive evidence that Few had acted in bad faith or committed intentional misconduct when he moved the seat belt the evening before a courtroom session, resulting in a dramatic demonstration the next day that supported his theory of the case.
Few had alleged a Kia seat belt had been severed when it got caught in the seat-back reclining lever during a 2004 accident, allowing his client to be thrown from the car. Lawyers for Kia had argued the plaintiff wasn't wearing his seat belt and someone had cut the belt after the accident.
Kia lawyers were surprised when they brought a portion of a Kia Sportage into the courtroom as an exhibit. “When it was rolled into the courtroom on Jan. 15 and the door was opened,” the Post-Gazette recounts, “the webbing of the seat belt was wedged behind the reclining lever—just like plaintiffs said could happen.”
At first Few denied tampering with the belt the night before. Later he admitted he had moved the seat belt, but said he thought he had returned it to its original position. "I'm 70 years old, and I'd been through a fairly hard day. I went down there, and I don't remember everything as good as I did when I was 25 or 30,” Few said.
Although Few won’t be sanctioned, he lost the case when McVerry found his expert witness was unable to cite any proof to support the claim that the seat belt had failed, according to the story.