Citing a 'stubborn noncompliance' with court orders and a 'deliberate and calculated plan to use the judicial system in an unconscionable and fraudulent manner,' a Massachusetts judge overturned a jury's product-liability verdict in favor of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America.
Barnstable County Superior Court Judge Richard Connon ordered a new trial in a negligence, breach of warranty and consumer protection suit filed by James Bobo, whose wife suffered massive head injuries in the 1993 crash of her 1990 Mitsubishi Galant. Connon also ordered Mitsubishi to pay Bobo's attorney fees and legal costs incurred in the original five-week trial held last fall.
Connon's harshly worded opinion said Mitsubishi wrongfully concealed the existence of more than 51,000 warranty claims and reports from customers and dealers about alleged door-latch defects, door openings and failures. The company failed to provide full claim information both before and during the trial, merely providing 'a general computer summary consisting of one-line entries for the claims.'
In addition, Connon said Mitsubishi misrepresented the fact that it uses the same type of latching system in all models. The suit contended that the Galant's latching system was defective because it allowed for unintentional door openings, thus denying adequate occupant protection.
Bobo's wife was driving, properly belted, when another vehicle ran a stop sign and smashed into the passenger side of the car. The passenger door's latch failed, the suit contends, allowing the door to open on impact. The car spun and slid into a tree that intruded into the now-open doorway and smashed into her head.
Connon said Bobo 'suffered substantial prejudice from Mitsubishi's conduct in concealing information that would have increased both the quality and quantity of liability evidence regarding what exactly Mitsubishi knew about the performance failures of similar doors and latching systems.'
Bobo's lawyer, George Fryhofer III of Atlanta, said Mitsubishi's victory at the original trial was a 'miscarriage of justice. We look forward to a new trial and the opportunity to put before the jury the dismal record of the thousands of repeated failures of Mitsubishi latching systems reflected in the concealed records.'
Fryhofer said no new trial date has been set.
Mitsubishi said it was disappointed that Connon overturned the jury verdict and is analyzing the decision before deciding how to proceed.