A jury in Barnstable County, Mass., has rejected a lawsuit alleging that the door structure and latch in a 1990 Mitsubishi Galant were defective.
However, the trial judge may not decide until late March whether to hold the manufacturer liable under the Massachusetts consumer protection law.
The case was filed on behalf of Karen Bobo, who was left in a vegetative state after her Galant was struck by a car that ran a stop sign in Sandwich, Mass., in 1993. The impact caused her right front door to open and threw the car into a spin until it hit a tree, the suit alleged, and Bobo struck the tree with her head.
Bobo's husband sued Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. for negligence, breach of implied warranty and deceptive trade practices. Mitsubishi denied all the allegations.
At trial, Mitsubishi offered expert evidence that 'extremely high inertial forces probably caused the door latch actuation,' defense lawyer Peter Durney of Boston said. The company's witnesses also testified that the latch and door structure design, manufacturing and testing were state-of-the-art.
In addition, 'Bobo was completely unrestrained and would have sustained severe brain injury whether or not the door remained closed, due to the dynamics of the event,' Durney said.
However, the plaintiff contended that Bobo was belted properly and that the impact of the two vehicles stretched the right front door, which enabled the remote tension rod to actuate the latch. The plaintiff's witnesses also claimed that the effect of the impact with the tree would have been minimal if the door had stayed closed.
In Massachusetts, judges rather than juries decide claims for violation of the consumer protection law, according to the husband's lawyer, George Fryhofer III of Atlanta.
Fryhofer said the judge has inspected the car and has admitted evidence of other complaints about latching system defects in Mitsubishi vehicles, including 4,069 warranty claims and a dozen lawsuits. 'He is undertaking a serious independent review of the consumer protection issues,' Fryhofer added.
If Bobo wins on that claim, she could be awarded compensatory damages, double or triple damages and attorney fees, he said.
The driver of the other car settled with Bobo.