Jury says GM should pay for brain injury
A US jury has delivered a $A226 million verdict against General Motors in a case involving a 12-year-old boy who suffered brain injuries in a crash.
However, the pay-out – if GM's subsequent appeal fails – would be limited to $A152 million by a law which limits punitive damages in Alabama, where the case was heard.
The jury took an hour to decide that GM was liable after it had heard that the boy, Jeffrey Jernigan was injured in the late-1999 crash while riding in a 1993 Oldsmobile Delta 88 sedan driven by his then-17-year-old brother, Nickolas.
The court was told the car collided head-on with another car at 80kmh on Bullock County's Highway 29. Both boys were wearing seat belts, and the force of the crash tore away about a third of the car.
The boys' father sued GM, claiming that the Oldsmobile's door design contributed to the severity of his son's injuries.
"GM was interested in cutting costs when it built this vehicle," Jere Beasley, attorney for the Jernigans told the court. "GM had tests that showed the vehicle was prone to causing head injury problems in the right front passenger."
GM countered by saying that the crash was caused by driver error and the forces involved were equivalent to launching a car off a three-storey building.
"We extend our sympathies to the Jernigan family, but the facts remain clear that this was a devastating accident caused by driver error," said Jay Cooney, director of safety communications at GM. "We believe Nickolas Jernigan, the driver of the Oldsmobile, crossed the centre line."
GM said the Jernigan's lawyers failed to prove their case.
Alabama law requires that plaintiffs had to prove there was another vehicle, similar in design to the Delta 88, that would have made the car safer. In this case, GM says no such alternative exists.
"The impact forces of the accident were equivalent to driving a car off of a three-storey building and having it hit the pavement in the exact spot where Jeffrey Jernigan was seated," Cooney said. "He would have suffered similar injuries in any other manufacturer's vehicle."
Thursday's verdict was the second-largest GM has suffered in a case tried in Alabama. In 1996, a jury in Lowndes County awarded a $A278-million verdict against GM. That case was later settled out of court.
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