Hyundai Motor Co. won the right to a third trial after an appellate court tossed out a $3 million judgment on a seat belt-related failure-to-warn claim.
A Florida Court of Appeal panel said the plaintiff's psychology expert failed to show that his conclusions were based on generally accepted scientific principles. It ordered a hearing on that issue before the expert will be allowed to testify at the retrial.
In 1991, Paulette Ferayorni was driving a 1990 Excel when she was hit by a car operated by a drunken driver. Evidence showed that Ferayorni was not wearing her manual lap belt and wore the shoulder harness under her arm rather than over her shoulder.
She died from internal injuries caused by pressure from the underarm use of the shoulder belt, the court said.
Her estate sued Hyundai in Broward County Circuit Court for defective design and failure to warn.
Estate lawyer Thomas Lardin of Fort Lauderdale said claims against the drunken driver were dropped because she had no insurance or assets.
At the first trial, a jury sided with Hyundai, but the appeals court ordered a second trial on a claim that the company failed to warn drivers about the risks of not using seat belts or using them improperly.
At the second trial, the estate's expert testified that two warnings about seat belts on the visors and one in the owner's manual were inadequate.
The jury agreed and awarded $6.5 million, which the trial judge reduced to $3 million.
In the latest decision, the appellate court overturned the award, saying the expert's opinions 'were based, in part, on general psychological research, literature and studies pertaining to warnings and labels.'
'There was, however, no showing that those works were generally accepted in the scientific community,' the court said.
The court also said the jury must be given the opportunity to decide whether the drunken driver was partly responsible for Ferayorni's death and, if so, to what degree.
The estate has asked the court to reconsider its decision and to decide whether the full $6.5 million verdict should be restored, Lardin said.
Hyundai spokesman Chris Hosford said the company is pleased by the decision, adding, 'We feel confident of our position in this matter.'