LANSING, Mich. - A unanimous appeals court has let stand a $444,205 verdict against DaimlerChrysler in a design defect suit involving a 1991 soft-top Jeep Wrangler.
A back-seat passenger who suffered severe brain damage in a 1991 accident provided enough evidence for the jury to conclude that the vehicle's design was 'unreasonably dangerous,' the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled.
With interest, the award of $444,205 will be almost doubled in size, plaintiff's lawyer David Parker of Detroit said.
DaimlerChrysler assistant general counsel Louann Van Der Wiele said the company is asking the state Supreme Court to review the decision.
'In our mind, the evidence was not sufficient' for plaintiff Laura Smrekar to prove that the Wrangler was defective, she said.
Smrekar was riding with friends on a warm summer day when they took off the top and removed the upper portion of both side doors, which had three metal pins to connect them to the lower part of the doors, the appeals court said.
They stored the upper doors, prongs facing up, between the rear seat and back gate door.
While off-roading, the Jeep hit a bump. Smrekar's head moved backward, and a pin pierced her skull.
She sued the manufacturer in Wayne County Circuit Court.
At trial, Smrekar's automotive engineering expert testified that sa-fer alternative designs , such as a zippered pouch or bag, were available to store the removable upper doors.
The jury sided with Smrekar.
The appeals court initially affirmed the verdict in 1999 but reviewed the case again on orders from the state Supreme Court.
It reached the same conclusion, saying, 'A manufacturer has a duty to design its product to eliminate any unreasonable risk of foreseeable injury.
'The evidence indicated a substantial risk of injury associated with the protruding prongs on the removable upper doors in light of the fact that there was nowhere to store the doors on or within the vehicle,' the court added.
The court said there was enough testimony for the jury to infer that Smrekar or her companions would have used a safety bag to store the doors if one had been available.
You can e-mail Eric Freedman at [email protected]