The California Court of Appeal has refused General Motors' request that it reconsider its decision to uphold the trial court's verdict against GM in a lawsuit involving a 1985 Chevrolet S10 Blazer. The appeals court ruled that GM must pay a $15.4 million award in the suit, which alleges that the roof and seat belt in the vehicle were defective.
The court upheld the verdict won by Robbie Lambert, an 18-year-old driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel in a 1990 one-vehicle rollover accident. The driver's side A-pillar partly collapsed in the rollover, the court said, buckling the roof rail, displacing the front header and letting the roof crush by 10 inches.
Lambert contended that defects in the Blazer's roof and seat belt caused the injuries that broke his neck and left him a quadriplegic, said his law-yer, Paul Killion of San Francisco.
GM denies that the Blazer was designed defectively. It has requested that the state Supreme Court review the case.
At the first trial, Lambert won a $7.5 million award that was reversed on appeal. In the second trial, the jury assessed damages of $25.7 million and reduced the amount by 40 percent to reflect Lambert's share of responsibility.
The Court of Appeal said it was up to the jury to choose between conflicting expert evidence about the cause of Lambert's injuries and said it found substantial evidence to support the verdict.
"GM's attack on the plaintiff's expert evidence is not persuasive," Judge Barton Gaut said for the three-member panel. "This is not a case in which the plaintiff's experts based their opinions on sheer speculation and guesswork. GM has not convinced us that the plaintiff's experts violated any physical or natural laws in reaching their conclusions. Their opinions are not inherently wrong, impossible or improbable."
But GM spokesman Jay Cooney says the testimony of a plaintiff's expert was not supported by facts or science. "GM is arguing that the court should have found his testimony to be nonscientific conclusions," he says.
The appeals court also said there was evidence that the Blazer roof could have been sufficiently strengthened to prevent Lambert's injury had GM installed "closed, not open, roof rails, at the cost of a few dollars."
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