General Motors must go to trial in an injured police officer's defect suit involving a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice, an appeals court in Brooklyn, N.Y., has ruled.
A five-judge panel found enough evidence for a jury to decide if there were defects in the Hemp-stead Police Department cruiser's airbag, antilock brake and seat-belt systems, as the suit contends.
Officer John Baluchinsky was on duty in August 1992 when he crashed into the passenger side of a vehicle that ran a red light. He suffered herniated discs in his back and an ankle injury and is permanently disabled, according to his lawyer, Tobi Salottolo of New York.
Baluchinsky sued GM in Nassau County Supreme Court, seeking damages on a strict product liability theory.
The suit alleged that the ABS system failed to slow or stop the Caprice when he applied pressure to the brake pedal, and that the airbag failed to deploy although the impact occurred at 25 to 30 mph. It also contended that the lap/shoulder belt was defective because - although designed for police use - it could not be safely and comfortably worn if the driver is equipped with a gun and holster.
GM denied there were any defects, and Justice Patricia Collins dismissed the case without trial.
But the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court disagreed, saying the opinions of GM's experts were insufficient to refute Baluchinsky's allegations about the ABS system and seat belt. It also said Baluchinsky's expert opinion demonstrated a factual dispute over whether the airbag system was defectively designed.
Salottolo, Baluchinsky's lawyer, said a settlement offer was made but not yet made final in her client's separate suit against the driver of the other car in the crash.
GM spokesman Kyle Johnson said the company is considering a further appeal, but added that if the case does go to trial, 'We're confident of our position.'