A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit contending that the airbag in a 1991 Chevrolet Corsica failed to deploy until after a crash. The court said disputed factual issues require a trial in the product liability case against General Motors.
According to the court, Ruby Harris was driving the car in Toledo, Ohio, in June 1996 when she accidentally turned into the path of an oncoming vehicle while trying to enter a parking lot. She was wearing a seat belt.
There was what the court described as a 'nearly head-on but relatively low-speed collision.'
Harris alleged that the airbag did not deploy during the crash. Instead, when she reached with her right hand to turn off the ignition, the airbag deployed. The bag hit her in the face, wrapped itself around her right arm and broke it.
She sued GM in U.S. District Court in Toledo. GM disputed the allegations and contended that the facts showed that the injury could not have occurred as Harris and her passenger contended.
Judge James Carr agreed and dismissed the case without trial on the basis of testimony from two GM experts, including the engineer who had downloaded data from the car's diagnostic energy reserve module and testified that the data suggested that the supplemental restraint system had functioned as designed.
However, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ordered the case to go to trial. The court said: 'The parties presented two conflicting versions of events. Harris submitted evidence, which, if believed, may support her theory of liability. GM submitted contrary evidence which, if admitted and believed, may negate any finding of liability.'
The court said defense experts failed to show conclusively that Harris' version of the deployment incident was physically impossible.
For example, GM's expert on injury causation and occupant kinematics merely offered an alternative scenario on how her arm was broken, it said.
In addition, the court said, the GM engineer's affidavit merely said the data from the diagnostic energy reserve module suggested the airbag deployed properly but did not prove the airbag couldn't have deployed belatedly as Harris contends.
The court also asked whether the engineer's testimony is scientifically reliable enough to be offered as evidence at trial. There was no proof that his testimony about the diagnostic energy reserve module is reliable or valid, it said.
A GM spokeswoman said, 'Because the litigation is ongoing, GM will not offer any comment at this time.'