Crime & Courts

Nissan pays settlement in SC teen’s rollover death

A Japanese car company has paid $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that an Aiken County high school senior was killed in a rollover car crash due to alleged issues with the vehicles air bags.

The settlement between Nissan Motor Co. and the dead 18-year-old woman’s estate was announced Tuesday in federal court in Columbia before U.S. Judge Mary Geiger Lewis.

Lawyers for both sides had wanted to keep secret the amount of money paid to the estate, but Lewis told the lawyers, “The public does have an interest in knowing about these things.”

Settlements in wrongful death cases in state and federal court in South Carolina nearly always are public, especially if they involve matters that affect the public.

In recent years, Nissan has undergone recalls of millions of its vehicles for alleged faulty air bag and seat belt issues, according to news reports.

Ashlynn Overton was a rising senior at North Augusta High School when she died in a July 2017 two-car crash in Aiken County, according to news accounts and the complaint in her case.

An oncoming car veered into her lane and hit the front bumper of Overton’s nearly new 2016 Nissan Versa. The impact caused Overton’s car to roll over. News reports said she was ejected from the vehicle and not wearing a seat belt.

The car had been given to her by her grandmother, and at the time, Overton — by all accounts an outgoing happy young woman — and two friends were going to a store to buy some Icees before having a sleepover, news accounts of the crash said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Overton estate attorney Chris Moore told the judge that an issue in the case was that Nissan had not installed a system that would have made the side curtain airbags in her Nissan deploy in her particular crash. When side curtain airbags activate in a rollover crash, they form a barrier between the driver and the driver’s window, protecting the driver.

Had the airbag deployed properly, it is likely that Overton would not have suffered fatal head trauma, Moore said.

Had the case gone to trial, Nissan would have contended that the law at the time the Nissan was sold did not require that particular vehicle to be equipped with a rollover detection sensor.

In a statement following settlement, Nissan said, “Our sympathies are with the Overton family” and insisted that Overton’s 2016 Nissan Versa “neither caused nor contributed to this crash.”

The statement also said that “while airbags can help prevent or mitigate injuries, they are only supplemental systems. Occupants should always wear seat belts, as unrestrained occupants are at an increased risk of injury or death in a crash.”

Under the agreement, Overton’s estate will receive approximately $776,030, and the lawyers in the case will get about $675,000, lawyers told Judge Lewis.

NOTE: An original version of this story incorrectly stated that the Nissan Versa in the crash was not equipped with side air bags. The vehicle did in fact have side air bags, but they were not equipped with a special sensor that would have activated in a rollover crash.