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January 17, 2006

Missouri Court of Appeals Reverses $80,000,000 Damages Award in Products Case

In Peters v. General Motors Corp. [Docket No. WD 62807], | Lexis | the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed a jury verdict in a products liability case brought against General Motors for injuries sustained by Constance Peters when her 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass traveled in reverse at 22 - 25 miles per hour from her house some 118 feet before it sideswiped a neighbor’s tree and continued in reverse to the front yard of her house before it stopped. She suffered serious injuries in the accident, including seven cranial fractures and severe brain injury. Her left arm was amputated at the forearm and her brain injuries left her in a persistent vegetative state.

The complaint alleged that the accident was caused by a defective three-mode cruise control on the vehicle. General Motors took the position that the injury was caused by her inadvertent application of the accelerator pedal. Mr. Peters filed a four-count petition seeking damages for Mrs. Peters’ personal injuries and his loss of consortium. He alleged strict products liability theories based on defective design and failure to warn and negligence on the part of General Motors.

The jury returned a verdict awarding $20,000,000 in compensatory damages on behalf of Mrs. Peters, $10,000,000 in compensatory damages to Mr. Peters' in his individual capacity and assessing GM $50,000,000 in punitive damages. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict. The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed in a decision handed down on January 17, 2006.

On appeal, GM asserted ten errors, including the trial court’s admission of the testimony of seven witnesses who were permitted to testify about their experiences with sudden unwanted vehicular acceleration while driving certain GM-made vehicles equipped with cruise control and in the admission of 213 reports made to GM involving sudden unwanted vehicle acceleration without the driver’s input. Seventy-four of those reports involved vehicles with cruise control. The court of appeals held that the punitive damages issue was improperly submitted to the jury, and that there were various evidentiary errors, including the admission of the testimony of the seven witnesses, and 139 of the accident reports that did not involve vehicles with cruise control, and remanded for a new trial, with the exception of the punitive damages issue.

MKS

January 17, 2006 | Permalink

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