On April 23, 2005, Derek Chinni had everything: a wife and son and a new baby on the way. Life could not have been better, but he learned quickly that this was not to be.
While driving his family on State Road 80 in La Belle, Hendry County, Chinni suddenly came upon a turtle the size of a car tire as he came out of a curve in a two-lane road. Chinni tried to avoid collision with the turtle, lost control of the vehicle and ended up upside down in the ditch in three to four feet of water.
Upon impact of the water, the Volvo S60’s tempered glass sunroof exploded. The sturdier laminated glass in the side, rear and front windows remained intact. Laminated glass is high-impact resistant glass which consists of two pieces of glass bonded together with a plastic interlayer, typically consisting of polyvinyl butyral (“PVB”).
As water rushed in the shattered sunroof, Derek and Angela unsuccessfully struggled to break free past the laminated side windows. Witnesses finally managed to rescue uninjured Derek through his door. He then joined a bus of migrant workers who used their farm tools to attempt to break the glass, again unsuccessful. The Good Samaritans next attempted to upright the Volvo. They managed to turn the vehicle over and pulled son Koby from the wreckage, where an onlooker immediately performed CPR, reviving the little boy. Unfortunately, when they got to Angela, she and her unborn son Cole had drowned.
The family’s attorney, Robert Kelley of Kelley/Uustal, stated that “Volvo advertises that ‘the guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo is and must remain safety.’ Chinni trusted Volvo with his own life and the lives of his family members.”
In fact, in its most recent Annual Report, Volvo highlights its “Safety Policy” which stipulates the following points:
- The Group’s products are characterized by safety.
- The Group shall offer its customers products that satisfy the highest safety requirements.
- The Group shall be regarded as the leading manufacturer of safe vehicles and transport products, equipment and systems.
The dangers of tempered glass have long been known to the auto industry since the late 1950’s for vehicle side windows, rear windows and sunroofs and should no longer be considered acceptable design practice on any vehicle. The 2006 North American International Auto Show specifically highlights that laminated glass is “gaining ground” and has become mainstream technology used in the automotive industry, with approximately 1.3 million vehicles produced using this technology.
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, requiring auto makers to use laminated glass could save up to 1,300 lives annually. “I fail to see any good reason for laminating the side and rear glass of the Chinni’s Volvo S60 but failing to laminate the sunroof,” added Uustal. “Had all the glass been laminated Angela and Cole’s deaths could have been prevented.”
Derek Chinni filed suit, October 17, 2006, in the Circuit Court in and for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County.