A federal appeals court has rejected a product-liability suit alleging a defect in a 1988 Chevrolet Silverado's radiator inlet connector.
The three-judge panel said the plaintiff, a mechanic who was injured while repairing the truck, failed to provide adequate expert testimony to prove the plastic part was defective.
The mechanic also was unable to show that the part was in substantially the same condition - other than normal wear and tear - when it malfunctioned as when it left General Motors' control 156,000 miles before the incident.
The owner bought the Silverado used in 1991. Over the next few years, he had the engine overhauled, the radiator cleaned and flushed and the radiator hoses replaced.
In 1995, he asked a friend, mechanic James Oglesby, to rebuild the engine, remove and clean the radiator and replace a hose clamp, according to the court. Transmission problems occurred within two weeks, and Oglesby adjusted a transmission cable. During the process, the radiator hose detached, spraying him with hot coolant.
He sued GM for negligence, breach of warranty and strict liability, contending that a manufacturing defect caused the inlet connector to be out of round.
GM denied any defect and claimed it had never received another complaint about the inlet connector, which had been installed in more than 2.5 million trucks.
U.S. District Judge Falcon Hawkins dismissed the suit before trial.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld that decision, saying testimony by Oglesby's mechanical engineering expert was not reliable enough to support the allegations.
For example, the expert admitted he did not know the type or composition of the plastic, did notanalyze or test the part and did not know the part's manufacturer.
'Thus, as a matter of logic, he could not eliminate other equally plausible causes for the plastic to have come out of round or crack,' appeals Judge Paul Niemeyer said.
Oglesby's lawyer, Allan Holmes of Charleston, said no further appeal is expected.
In a statement, GM said it was pleased by the decision. 'The court's ruling supports the well-established law that the testimony of a plaintiff's expert in a product-liability case must be reliable and based on scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge, not speculation or conjecture,' it said. 'Although GM sympathizes with the plaintiff, this incident was not the fault of General Motors or its product.'