When a spare tire mounted behind the rear seat of a 1985 Dodge Ram Charger broke loose in a crash, it left a skid mark on the headliner and smashed driver Bradley Detterline in the back of the neck, fracturing his spine.
Now a Pennsylvania appeals court says the dealership that installed the spare must pay Detterline's estate $676,000.
Philadelphia lawyer Kevin Riechelson, who represents D'Ambrosio's Dodge Inc. of Downingtown, Pa., said his client hasn't decided whether to appeal further but that 'there were too many things allowed into evidence that shouldn't have been.'
The lawyer for the estate, David Pennington of Philadelphia, said, 'For the dealer, (the decision) means do the right thing and don't go with make-shift fixtures to solve a problem.'
According to the unanimous Superior Court of Pennsylvania ruling, D'Ambrosio's agreed to provide a spare tire when Detterline bought the used truck, and a salesman mounted it in the cab. In 1990, in a single-vehicle accident, the truck left the roadway and struck a tree, killing Detterline.
The estate sued in Chester County Court of Common Pleas, claiming the dealership's negligence was responsible for Detterline's death. D'Ambrosio's denied liability.
At trial, the estate's accident reconstruction expert testified that the tire-mounting hardware wasn't case-har-dened and was insufficient to withstand the force of impact.
A forensic pathologist testified that Detterline would have survived had the spare not flown loose and torn his spinal cord.
On appeal, the three-judge panel rejected the dealership's argument that the $676,000 jury award was excessive, citing evidence of Detterline's life expectancy, salary and employment history.
D'Ambrosio's also unsuccessfully challenged use of the autopsy report, the pathologist's ability to offer an expert opinion and the allegedly speculative nature of testimony from the accident reconstruction expert.