General Motors has asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review a decision granting a new trial to a driver who was assaulted by an attacker after the automatic door locks opened on her 1995 Pontiac Grand Am.
GM spokeswo-man Brenda Rios said that that request is pending.
At issue is a state Superior Court ruling that ordered GM to go through a second trial on the plaintiff's negligence claim although a jury already had found that the Grand Am's automatic locking system wasn't designed defectively.
The case involved Maureen Moroney, who was attacked on a June 1995 afternoon outside a Kmart store. According to the Superior Court, Moroney spotted a suspicious-looking man walking through the parking lot. When she parked and turned off the ignition, the doors unlocked automatically.
The man opened the driver's door, got in, demanded the keys and attacked Moroney. He was arrested, convicted and imprisoned, Rios said, and GM denied any liability.
Moroney's suit against Kmart was dismissed. She and her husband won a $2.16 million judgment against the attacker, who had no assets.
At trial, the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas rejected Moroney's design defect claim.
But the trial judge didn't let the jury consider her negligence claim. And the Superior Court ruled that that was wrong because negligence and defective design are separate legal theories of liability.
"While the jury concluded that the locking mechanism was not defective in design or function, they should have been able to consider whether GM was negligent by unreasonably creating a locking system which operated to automatically unlock the vehicle when it was turned off," Judge Joseph Del Sole said.
Moroney's lawyer, James Pfeiffer of Phillipsburg, N.J., said that he had offered evidence of GM's alleged negligence, including shipping cars with the fuse already installed for the automatic unlocking mechanism. Pfeiffer said it would have been "safer from the beginning" to deliver cars with the fuse out and leave it to consumers to have it installed.