A New Jersey appeals court has reduced part of a $17.8 million product liability verdict against General Motors, but upheld the company's responsibility in the crash of a new 1986 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z28 sports coupe equipped with a T-roof.
Michael Green, a porter for Sullivan Chevrolet in Roselle Park, was paralyzed after a Camaro owned by his employer collided with a school van carrying children with disabilities. At the time, he was joy riding with a friend in a residential neighborhood at a speed estimated at 40 to 76 mph.
His only injury was a fractured neck. His lawyer, Maurice Donovan of West Orange, said, 'Initially we thought it was a rollover, because why does a roof collapse in a side-rear collision?'
Green sued GM in Essex County Superior Court, where a jury held that the car was not crashworthy because the T-roof was defectively designed. It found that Green shared no part of the liability for his injuries and awarded damages for past and future medical expenses and lost income, as well as pain and suffering.
With interest, the verdict was worth $25 million to $26 million by the time the appeal was argued in early 1997, the New Jersey Appellate Division in Trenton noted.
The court said there was sufficient evidence to hold GM liable for defective design, regardless of how fast Green drove. It said: 'When GM placed this vehicle on the market, it certainly knew it would be driven at lawful speeds up to 55 mph and in some states 65 mph. It also knew the vehicle might collide with another vehicle. The closing speed between Green's vehicle and the school van of between 45 and 81 mph is well within the range reasonably to be expected in the design of the Camaro.'
However, the court ordered recalculation of the award for medical expenses, and said Green is not entitled to about $8 million in pretrial interest on the part of the verdict that covers future medical costs and future lost earnings.
At the same time, the court added another $799,000 to the award, saying GM is not entitled to a credit for a settlement Green collected from the van driver and her employer.
In a formal statement, GM spokesman Kyle Johnson said the company is pleased the court cut the award to correct mistakes in calculating Green's medical expenses and interest, but is asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to review the rest of the decision.
Donovan said Green has filed a cross-appeal, asking the state Supreme Court to allow pretrial interest on the full award for future medical expenses and lost earnings.