A federal judge in New Orleans has ordered a trial in a lawsuit alleging that a General Motors replacement seat belt was defective.
U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. denied GM's bid to dismiss the case without trial, ruling that there is enough evidence for a jury to consider.
GM spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato said the case now is scheduled for trial late this year. 'We intend to show the product was not defective when it left GM's control,' she said.
In 1996, Pamela Peterson's 1988 Buick Regal was involved in a head-on collision with a drunken driver, according to the decision. She had bought the car used in 1994, with 79,000 miles on the odometer.
Her suit contended that the driver's seat belt was designed improperly and was unreasonably dangerous because there was too much slack in it, causing her to be propelled out of the driver's seat and into the instrument panel.
GM moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the Regal had not been in the same condition as it was when it left the factory. The company said the car had been damaged in a 1995 flood, causing the belt to rust.
In letting the case proceed to trial, the judge cited a mechanical engineer's testimony that the retractors had failed to lock and that there had been an electrical malfunction. In addition, the judge said an electrical engineering expert had testified that an electrical failure caused the inertia lock system to fail, preventing the belt from restraining Peterson properly.
Although the belt was not original equipment, it was a GM replacement product, he said, and there was no claim that it had been installed or repaired improperly.
As for the flooding, he said there was no evidence that the belt had been submerged, only that there had been water above the Regal's floorboard. Therefore, he said, GM did not show that water damage or Peterson's failure to replace the belt after the flood contributed to or caused the purported defect.
Peterson's lawyer didn't return phone calls seeking comment.
You can e-mail at [email protected]