DETROIT - A federal judge has tossed out a product-liability suit involving the seat belt system in a 1991 Dodge Stealth, ruling that the driver's expert used scientifically unreliable testing methods in concluding that the vehicle was defective.
Senior U.S. Judge John Feikens also found insufficient evidence to support Michael Nemir's claim that inadvertent partial latching occurred and caused his serious injuries.
Nemir's lawyer, Eric Buikema of Birmingham, Mich., criticized the decision and said his client will take the case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Nemir lost control of the Stealth in a December 1993 single-vehicle accident in Maryland, where he lived. The rear end swung out, the car left the road and its right side struck a tree. Nemir was thrown into the back seat and struck his head.
Contending he had belted himself in properly before the crash, Nemir sued the car's manufacturer, Mitsubishi Motors Corp., and marketer, Chrysler Corp., in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
He claimed the buckle was designed defectively, and he offered evidence that his economic damages would reach about $10 million.
The defendants disputed the existence of any defect and challenged the assertion that Nemir was buckled up.
'It was our view he wasn't even wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident, and there was no defect in the belt system or buckle,' said Minn-eapolis lawyer David Kelly, who is representing Mitsubishi and DaimlerChrysler in the case.
In his decision, Feikens sharply criticized the testing done by Nemir's expert, a former chief design engineer for Takata, which made the buckle.
In addition, Feikens said: 'The plaintiff simply has not presented any evidence of the likelihood that inadvertent partial latching might occur in actual use. Without such evidence, a jury would have no means to determine the risk of danger posed by the alleged design defect.'
Defense lawyer Kelly said the decision shows that judges are willing in product-liability cases 'to take a really close view of so-called experts' opinions that are little more than speculation.'
Nemir's lawyer, Buikema, said there was evidence beyond the expert's test results to show that the buckle was defective and said Feikens was wrong for denying his client a jury trial.