LANSING, Mich. - The estate of a woman killed in a 1992 accident will appeal a decision that threw out an $8.3 million product liability verdict against Chrysler Corp., the estate's attorney said.
William Mills of Grand Rapids said he will ask the Michigan Supreme Court to review the case involving an allegedly defective cross member on the rear bumper of a 1985 Jeep CJ-7.
The Jeep was originally equipped with small 'bumperettes' and a drawbar for towing light trailers, but these were replaced by a previous owner with a 65-pound homemade bumper and an attached ball hitch. The homemade bumper was attached by nuts and bolts to two manufacturing holes, one at each end of the cross member.
Michael and Karen Straley later bought the CJ-7, which they used for occasional towing. At the time of the accident, the bumper and hitch assembly detached from the frame, leaving the trailer protruding into the left lane of an expressway. Patricia Van Eizenga was killed when she slowed to pass the protruding trailer, was rear-ended by another car, pushed into another lane and broadsided by a semi.
Her estate sued Chrysler as the successor to American Motors, alleging defective design and failure to warn. The estate also sued the Straleys.
At trial, the jury awarded damages against Chrysler but cleared the Straleys of liability, Chrysler appellate lawyer David Charda-voyne of Detroit said.
But the appeals court reversed the award against Chrysler, saying American Motors had no reason to foresee that anybody would use only the two manufacturing holes to attach a bumper, whether homemade or commercially available on the aftermarket. 'The Jeep in its original condition, with drawbar and bumperettes, needed no modification to safely tow a trailer,' the majority opinion said.
It also found no proof of any other accidents resulting from that method of attachment, saying, 'All evidence points to the fact that this one instance of failure of the rear cross member was unique, unusual and not reasonably foreseeable.'
Mills, the estate's lawyer, said, 'The appellate decision does not reflect in any way all the facts developed at trial. I was frankly shocked by the court's reasoning.'