A federal appeals court has ruled that a Kentucky man cannot pursue his fraud claim against General Motors in regard to burns he received in a 1988 crash of a 1978 Chevrolet C/K pickup.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Kentucky law does not recognize claims that a manufacturer's fraud deprived a plaintiff of the ability to file a product liability suit on time.
In this case, there were allegations that GM's fraudulent failure to disclose information about the purported defect prevented the driver from starting his suit before the statute of limitations ran out.
James Hazel Jr. was injured seriously when he lost control of his father's 1978 pickup and struck a telephone pole. The truck flipped over and burst into flames as Hazel tried to crawl out. He suffered burns over 60 percent of his body.
After the crash, the truck was stored in his aunt's backyard, but Hazel and his family didn't suspect a gas tank design defect or hire an investigator until they saw an NBC 'Dateline' program on Nov. 17, 1992.
After the show, an engineering analysis of a newspaper photo of Hazel's pickup at the accident scene revealed that the truck's gas tank, which was designed to sit partially outside the frame rails, had been punctured by the side impact with the pole.
Hazel sued in 1993 for product liability, negligence and fraud. However, the case was dismissed without trial under Kentucky's one-year statute of limitations. In its first review in 1996, the appeals court upheld dismissal of the product liability and negligence allegations but ordered a lower-court judge to reconsider the fraud issue. The judge did review that claim but dismissed it again.
Now a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit has affirmed that decision, saying Kentucky law provides no basis for Hazel's claim.
Hazel's lawyer, Stephen Hixson of Bowling Green, Ky., has filed a petition asking the full appeals court to consider the case. He said the panel's decision was based on outdated Kentucky cases more than 40 years old.
Spokeswoman Mary Henige said GM is pleased by the appellate court decision: 'The court rejected his claim that GM had concealed any facts that deprived him of the opportunity to file suit.'