The Louisiana Court of Appeal has upheld a jury verdict in favor of General Motors and a Monroe dealership in a lawsuit alleging the antilock brakes in a 1994 GMC Suburban failed.
The court found insufficient evidence to support a product liability claim.
According to the panel, Suburban driver John Rivoire rear-ended Cathy Morris during heavy traffic on a highway in Monroe in 1995. Rivoire claimed brake failure caused the accident. The police officer who investigated the crash did not ticket Rivoire and attributed the accident to brake failure.
Morris sued Rivoire for negligence. Rivoire, in turn, sued GM and Cooper Buick-GMC for product liability and failure to warn. He also sought to rescind the sale on the grounds that the vehicle was defective.
The defendants denied liability and contended that Rivoire's failure to apply the brakes in time caused the accident.
Meanwhile, General Motors Acceptance Corp. sued Rivoire to recover the amount owed on his vehicle financing agreement.
At trial, an Ouachita Parish District Court jury placed the entire blame on Rivoire, ordered him to pay Morris $43,933 in damages and cleared GM and the dealership of any liability. Judge Alvin Sharp then upheld GMAC's right to collect the balance owed on the financing contract.
In addition to Rivoire's appeal, Morris contended that the damage award in her favor was inadequate.
In its decision, the appeal court said Rivoire didn't show that the ABS was unreasonably dangerous in design or manufacture or that GM failed to warn him about a defect.
In upholding GMAC's claim, the court said Rivoire's inability to prove the existence of a defect means the financing contract remained valid.
Rivoire represented himself on appeal.
A GM spokeswoman said, 'No defect was found in the brake system, so the owner of the Suburban was found to be liable and still must follow his lease agreement, which he was trying to get out of.'
Morris' lawyer, W. Mark McKee of West Monroe, said he was disappointed that the court ruled against his client on the size of the damages. 'We will ask for a rehearing on damages.'
Eric Freedman can be reached at [email protected]