The Texas Supreme Court has thrown out a $17 million jury verdict in a lawsuit that blamed a fatal head-on crash on an allegedly defective wheel assembly in a 1996 Volks-wagen Passat.
The victim's estate failed to provide sufficient expert evidence to support the award, the court ruled.
The case arose from an accident in which the Passat crossed a highway median and struck a Ford Mustang. The Mustang's driver, Diana Ramirez Guerra, died, and her daughter was severely injured.
The estate sued Volkswagen of America Inc., claiming a defect caused the Passat's rear-wheel assembly to detach. In its defense, VWoA blamed human error for the crash and countered that the accident caused the detachment, not the other way around.
The case was tried twice; VW won the first trial but lost the second.
The state Supreme Court called testimony by the estate's accident reconstruction expert unreliable and lacking in scientific support. And the court said testimony by the estate's metallurgical expert was insufficient to prove that a defect caused the crash.
In addition, the court said the jury should not have seen a videotape that a local TV news crew made at the scene showing an unidentified witness being interviewed about the accident.
The tape should not have been admitted into evidence, Justice J. Dale Wainwright said.
Two justices dissented, voting to allow a new trial where the metallurgical expert could testify but the accident reconstructionist could not. They agreed with the majority that the new jury should not see the videotape.
VWoA spokesman Tony Fouladpour said: "We felt all along very strongly that there was no defect in the car."
Plaintiffs' lawyer David Gunn of Houston said the decision means appeals courts can "retain the power to second-guess" what have traditionally been jury decisions.
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