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Jessica Belknap, 15 years old, and Jessica Gorne, 16 years old, were seated in the rear outboard seated positions with their lap belts on in a 1976 Volkswagen Van. Ms Belknap’s twin brother, who was seated in the right front seat, and Ms Gorne’s brother, who was driving, were both wearing the lap and shoulder belts provided for front seat occupants. A 1977 Laidlaw school bus made a left turn in front of the Volkswagen. Ms. Belknap’s brother walked away from the accident with a few minor scratches. Ms. Gorne’s brother sustained a fractured left leg. The two girls sustained massive abdominal injuries and chance fractures. Jessica Belknap ultimately developed an infection and died six weeks post accident. Due to her internal injuries, Jessica Gorne underwent numerous surgeries and ultimately ended up with a foot of intestine. As a result, she will for the remainder of her life have to be fed by way of TPN which cost over $200,000 per year.

Jessica Belknap’s parents brought a wrongful death action and Jessica Gorne brought a personal injury action against Laidlaw Transit, Inc. Both suits were consolidated and Laidlaw eventually settling with the Belknap family for $2,000,000 and with Jessica Gorne for $32,500,000.

Laidlaw then sued Volkswagen for indemnity and contribution. Laidlaw contended that had the 1976 Volkswagen been equipped with lap and shoulder belts for the rear seat occupants as it had for the front seat occupants, the girls would not have received their severe injuries, but rather would have at worst suffered injuries similar to their brothers.

After a three week trial, involving 10 expert witnesses, a downtown Los Angeles jury rendered a defense verdict for Volkswagen. Volkswagen had made a $75,000 statutory offer to compromise before the start of trial. Consequently, Volkswagen was awarded over $665,000 in costs. Laidlaw agreed to settle the matter with Volkswagen by dismissing its appeal and paying Volkswagen $580,000.

Laidlaw was represented by Peter Ezzell of Haight, Brown & Bonesteel and John Delis of Long, Williamson & Delis.