Court: Ill. dealership store not liable for crash

A Chicago-area dealership that sold a 2000 GMC Jimmy with an allegedly defective electronic control module isn't legally responsible for an accident caused by a drunken driver who smashed into the SUV after it stalled, the Illinois Appellate Court has ruled.

The court ruled that neither Community Motors Inc., which did business as Community Pontiac-GMC Truck, nor Delphi Automotive Systems, which made the module, is liable because it couldn't foresee that the module's failure "would likely result in the plaintiffs being injured by an intoxicated driver."

Dealership lawyer Rosa Tumialan of Chicago said the ruling means "there has to be more than this alleged defect" to hold the defendants liable in a product liability case.

According to the decision, Liam O'Neill bought the Jimmy in February 2001 from Community Pontiac-GMC Truck in Oak Forest, Ill.

About four months later, the Jimmy stalled while O'Neill's wife was driving at night.

O'Neill arrived to assist, and the couple were pushing it off the road to a parking lot when the drunken driver collided with the rear of the vehicle. O'Neill was knocked to the ground and his wife's legs were crushed, requiring amputation.

At the time of the accident, the streetlights were on, the Jimmy's hazard lights were flashing, the road was dry, the weather was clear and other vehicles had safely passed the Jimmy, the decision said.

The drunken driver had consumed 10 bottles of beer at a golf course clubhouse before the crash and was convicted of aggravated driving under the influence, the court said.

A Cook County judge threw out the O'Neills' claims of negligence, strict liability -- the legal responsibility for injuries or damages even if not negligent or at fault -- and breach of warranty against Community Motors and Delphi.

The appellate court agreed that the O'Neills' lawsuit lacked merit.

To hold Delphi and Community Motors liable, the defective module would have to be both the factual and legal causes of the plaintiffs' injuries, the court said.

And although the defective module was a factual cause of the accident, the sole legal cause was the intervening action of the drunken driver, the unanimous panel said in an opinion written by Judge Aurelia Pucinski.

"While all traffic accidents are to some extent remotely foreseeable, the injuries suffered in this case were not the kind that were sufficiently foreseeable because of the failure of an electronic control module," the court said.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Richard Burke of Chicago said he is disappointed by the ruling and is reviewing it for a possible appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

General Motors was a defendant in the lawsuit prior to bankruptcy.

You can reach Eric Freedman at

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