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Judge dismisses suit against Porsche in crash that killed actor Paul Walker

Paul Walker crash site

Rafael Lopez of Santa Clarita places a sign at a memorial at the site where actor Paul Walker and his friend Roger Rodas were killed in a car crash Nov. 30, 2013.

(Christina House / For The Times)

The argument that a vehicle malfunction, and not excessive speed, led to the 2013 crash that claimed the life of “The Fast and the Furious” star Paul Walker was dealt a blow when a judge dismissed one of three wrongful-death suits filed against Porsche, court records show.

The suit was brought by Kristine Rodas, whose husband, Roger, was driving a Porsche Carrera GT when it crashed and caught fire in Santa Clarita three years ago. In a ruling handed down Monday, U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez found that Rodas had not presented sufficient evidence to prove that alleged design flaws with the Carrera GT caused her husband’s death.

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For the Record

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April 5, 9:12 p.m.: A previous version of this article erroneously referred to a lawsuit filed by Walker’s widow. Walker was not married. Rodas’ widow filed a lawsuit.

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Rodas had argued that mechanical issues, including the vehicle’s lack of a crash cage or a racing fuel cell, were at fault. But the judge found that neither would have prevented Rodas from succumbing to the blunt force injuries he suffered in the wreck.

Claims that the vehicle’s suspension was faulty were also dismissed after the judge disqualified expert witness testimony presented by Rodas’ attorney. The expert based his analysis on tire marks he examined weeks after the crash and then changed his explanation of why they were significant after the deadline to present expert testimony, Gutierrez ruled.

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The suit was one of three brought against Porsche after the Nov. 30, 2013, crash. Walker’s teenage daughter Meadow filed a similar suit last year that alleged different mechanical shortcomings, and Walker’s father, executor of his estate, was reported to have filed suit last fall.

Experts said Monday’s decision was unlikely to affect the other suits.

“It’s going to be a different inquiry as to whether or not those other alleged design flaws result in other liability to Porsche,” said Christian Scali, whose law firm regularly defends automakers in civil suits.

Calls seeking comment from Porsche and Rodas’ attorney were not immediately returned.

Walker was on break from filming the seventh installment of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise on the day of the crash. He had attended a charity event at a Valencia motor sport company owned by Rodas, and the two drove off in a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT that Rodas had purchased recently. Walker was in the passenger seat.

The car was traveling along Hercules Street when it smashed into several trees and a concrete light pole. Rodas died on impact, according to coroner’s officials, and Walker died within seconds of the wreck from a combination of traumatic injuries and burns.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol said that the vehicle was going at least 90 miles per hour. Investigators determined that unsafe speed, rather than any mechanical flaw, caused the fatal wreck.

Kristine Rodas argued in her lawsuit that Rodas was observing the speed limit. Walker’s daughter contends in her suit that the car was traveling 63 to 71 miles per hour.

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Determining whether speed was a larger factor in the wreck than any alleged design flaws would be critical at trial, Scali said.

Meadow Walker argued that the German car manufacturer ignored safety regulations when loading Rodas’ Carrera GT with an engine capable of speeds up to 205 mph. Her suit also argues that a seat-belt flaw caused Walker to suffer fatal injuries.

Attorneys representing Meadow Walker said Tuesday that the ruling would have no bearing on their case.

“Meadow will continue the fight to hold Porsche accountable for selling a defective product that kills,” the statement said.

Times Staff Writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in Southern California.

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