A Killeen, Texas, dealership must defend a wrongful death suit accusing it of misrepresenting the model year of a new car that was not equipped with a driver airbag as the buyer expected.
A Texas Court of Appeals panel in Austin reinstated a case against Killeen Imports Inc. filed by the estate of Frandora Jones, who died in 1995 when her 1993 Mazda MX-3 smashed into a tree at an estimated 80 mph.
The decision allows the case to proceed toward trial.
The estate contends that Jones bought the car only because she was told it was a 1994 model with airbags. It also contends that Jones, who was wearing a seat belt, probably would have survived the collision if there had been a driver airbag.
Killeen's lawyer, E. Lee Parsley of Austin, said his client will ask the appeals court for a rehearing and, if that is unsuccessful, probably will ask the Texas Supreme Court to review the case before trial.
Mazda was not sued, and there were no allegations that the car was defective.
According to the estate, Jones bought the car in April 1994 in the belief it was a 1994 model. Jones' daily handwritten journal described it as 'my first new car, a 1994 Mazda MX-3,' said the estate's layer, John Francis of Temple.
It was identified as a 1994 model in the buyer's order, odometer disclosure statement, extended service agreement, and Mazda cash-back customer incentive program form she signed, the court said. To make those misrepresentations, Francis said somebody probably manually overrode the dealership's software that automatically would have logged the car in as a 1993 model on delivery, based on its vehicle identification number.
DISCOUNT FOR AIRBAG
Francis and the court noted that she received a 20 percent discount on her auto insurance premiums based on her statement that the car had a driver airbag.
The dealership disputes any wrongdoing and contends that Jones knew she was buying a 1993 car. Although 'some of the paperwork was incorrect,' Parsley said, 'if we end up going to trial, we will put in evidence she indeed knew it was a 1993 model.'
The accident took place as Jones drove alone along an interstate from Louisiana to Texas, where she was stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen. The court said the car left the road and smashed into a tree after she fell asleep at the wheel.
Based on skid marks, police calculated that the car was going about 80 mph, according to Parsley.
The court said police reported finding a 1994 owner's manual in the wreckage.
AN EXPERT OPINION
A forensic pathologist whose company performed the autopsy offered his expert opinion that 'more probably than not she would (have) lived with the use of an airbag restraint in conjunction with the three-point restraint system.'
Bell County District Judge Rick Morris dismissed the case without trial.
However, the appeals court found enough evidence to allow the case to proceed to pre-trial discovery. The court said the estate is entitled to a trial on its claim that Jones' decision to buy the car was influenced by Killeen's alleged misrepresentation and that she reasonably believed it came equipped with the standard safety features of a 1994 model, including airbags.
'Killeen has not established as a matter of law that Jones' death was not a foreseeable consequence of the danger created by the misrepresentation,' the court said. 'Killeen's general manager acknowledged that the 1993 Mazda MX-3 sold to Jones was not equipped with a driver's-side airbag and that driver's-side airbags are an important safety feature designed to prevent injuries of the type sustained by Jones.'