LANSING, Mich. - General Motors has failed to persuade an appeals panel to toss out an award of more than $1.82 million in a suit alleging that the seat belt in a 1985 full-sized Chevrolet van was defective.
The Michigan Court of Appeals found enough evidence to support the claim by the injured driver, Rodney Jones.
The court also rejected defense arguments that the jury should not have been allowed to see evidence of GM crash tests involving a different type of vehicle or to hear testimony from witnesses who were involved in accidents in which their seat belts failed in other GM vehicles.
GM is asking the state Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that the decision conflicts with Michigan law, company spokesman Jay Cooney says.
According to the appeals court, Jones was seriously hurt in an April 1995 crash with a Ford Aerostar. His Chevrolet van spun around and rolled twice, ejecting him onto the street.
He sued in Berrien County Circuit Court, alleging negligent design and other claims.
GM disputed Jones' assertions that he had been wearing his seat belt and that the buckle had unlatched "inertially" - that is, during the crash - allowing the latch plate to pull out of the buckle.
Cooney said defense experts and engineers examined the van, seat belt and latch and found no evidence of a defect or that Jones had been belted as he claimed.
The original verdict of about $5 million was reduced to $1,825,595 to reflect the jury's finding that Jones was 25 percent responsible for the crash and to offset his settlement with the other driver, says Jones' lawyer, David Parker of Detroit.
With interest and an award of $800,000 in sanctions against GM, "the case is worth more than $3 million," Parker says.
In its unanimous decision, the court says the jury had ample evidence to hold GM responsible.
The court also says it was proper for the jury to see GM crash test videotapes showing N-cars rather than full-sized vans because they demonstrated general scientific principles of inertial unlatching and were not an attempt to recreate Jones' crash.
Similarly, the court says, the other witnesses could testify to illustrate that inertial unlatching does happen in actual accidents.
You can send e-mail to Eric Freedman at [email protected]