Paul Walker and Roger Rodas (Facebook)
Roger Rodas's wife, Kristine, is suing Porsche over the Nov. 30, 2013, accident that killed her husband and the "Fast & Furious" actor in Santa Clarita, California. In the legal papers obtained by "The Insider With Yahoo," she alleges that the car company made a faulty vehicle and is suing for wrongful death and negligence.
The lawsuit states that Rodas, "a car enthusiast and an experienced race car driver," and Walker, a "close friend and colleague," were at a charity event for the actor's Reach Out Worldwide, which was held at Rodas's high performance vehicle shop, Always Evolving. Rodas was highly experienced with cars and particularly Porsches, owning between "five to 10 … at any given time." However, after leaving the event in the driver seat of his 2005 Carrera GT, "He drove not more than 100 yards when [it] malfunctioned, crashed, and ended both Mr. Rodas and Mr. Walker's lives." It also says that Rodas was driving "approximately 55 miles per hour" when he lost control of the vehicle.
The lawsuit claims that the car "went out of control due to the failure of a suspension component in the right rear wheel area," hitting three different trees and making the car split into two pieces before becoming engulfed in flames. The Carrera did not have a functioning crash cage, so the car could not withstand the impact, and had a malfunctioning fuel cell, which led to gas leaking and the car catching fire, so the accident had fatal results.
However, omitted from the papers, which were filed Monday, are the official crash investigation findings. As reported in March, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's investigation found that unsafe driving, not mechanical failure, caused the accident. The report stated that Rodas was driving at a speed between 80 mph and 93 mph when the car began to drift coming out of a curve. The speed limit in the residential neighborhood is 45 mph.
And that is exactly what a spokesperson for Porsche told Yahoo when we reached them for comment on Tuesday.
"We are very sorry for the Rodas and Walker family's loss," said Nick Twork, who is the manager of product communications for Porsche North America. "The crash was the subject of a detailed investigation by the proper authorities (L.A. County Sheriff and California Highway Patrol), and their investigation disproves the allegations in the lawsuit. The investigation found that driving at a high speed in a negligent manner caused the crash and concluded that there was no mechanical defect."
Yahoo also consulted Gregory Keating, a professor at USC Gould School of Law, who thinks that the high-profile nature of the case could bring about a quick resolution.
"Given the visibility of this case, that fact alone favors some kind of settlement," Keating says. "Things like this don't go to trial with celebrities. Why does Porsche want to get famous for being the car Paul Walker was driving in when he was killed? It's not as if you had a normal plaintiff, so let's factor out the impact of that which I think would incline Porsche to settle if there are reasonable settlement terms."
However, if the case progresses, Rodas's legal team will have to prove that the car had a defect with its suspension that was Porsche's fault — versus, say, a failure of maintenance of the vehicle, which was nearly a decade old. As for the crash cage issue, they'll have to look back to the time the car was sold and see if there was something the company could have put in the car to make it safer or stronger, but opted not to. So the safety of that vehicle will be compared to other year's models of that car — as well as similar racecars from other companies (Ferrari, Maclaren).
Speed keeps coming up as a factor with the car, which is really a racetrack car, not a typical vehicle, Keating reminds us. (The lawsuit reiterates that point, noting that Porsche said of the car, "Carrera GT is as close to a racecar as we will ever get.") The lawsuit states that Rodas was traveling at 55 mph despite the investigation concluding that he was going at least 80.
"On the speeding point, I don't think the speeding point itself will have that much impact," Keating says. "It's possible to find a jurisdiction where if you're speeding then it causes you to forfeit your claim, but … in California, it would be a comparative negligence state. You take into account a plaintiff's negligence in driving too fast and compare it to if there is any negligence on behalf of the defendant."
He continues, "The other thing is, a car like this — you expect this car to be driven above the speed limit. It's kind of a strange thing to say … but it's what we all think these cars are for. We think that people who buy them, we hope that they drive them above the speed limit in a safe manner, but we expect them to drive them over the speed limit. And Porsche has to know that. So Porsche — because that's not the intended use of the car, it's an expected use of the car — they should take that into account when designing it."
Kristine Rodas's attorney has not yet responded to Yahoo's request for comment about the case.