(August 10, 2010) -- General Motors Corp. has failed to convince a federal appeals court to reverse a $3.5 million jury verdict in a case over the death of a teenager in the rollover of an allegedly defective Chevrolet Blazer.
The lower court did not abuse its discretion when it denied several GM requests to intervene in its favor and to exclude evidence in the trial over the death of Matthew John Reynolds, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said in an order issued Thursday.
Reynolds, a Hall County, Ga., teenager, died in June 2003 when he was ejected from his family's 1995 Chevrolet Blazer following a collision with another car.
His parents, Bonnie and Garland, sued on behalf of themselves and his estate, claiming the Blazer rolled because it was defectively designed. Matthew was ejected and killed after the rollover — not after the collision itself, they said.
The SUV’s center of mass was too high, which made it tip more easily than it should have, the Reynolds claimed. The SUV's roof was also too prone to crush, and its seatbelts were defectively designed and released too easily, they claimed.
In June 2008, the jury awarded the Reynolds and Matthew's estate a total of $3.5 million. GM asked for a new trial, but the court ruled that the experts the Reynolds provided gave ample evidence to support the finding of liability.
GM had argued certain questions — like whether its warnings in the car were adequate or whether Matthew was injured in the initial crash or his subsequent ejection — should have been decided as a matter of law. The district court, though, found its own judgment proper.
The Eleventh Circuit agreed. Though GM offered six grounds on which the verdict should be overturned, the Eleventh Circuit found that the district had acted properly.
“Although we review jury instructions de novo to determine whether they misstate the law or mislead the jury to the prejudice of the objecting party, the district court is afforded wide discretion with respect to the instructions’ style and wording as long as the instructions accurately reflect the law,” the panel said in its per curiam decision.
“With respect to the claimed evidentiary errors, we are not persuaded that any of the challenged decisions amounted to an abuse of discretion,” the panel said.
The Eleventh Circuit added that several questions over Georgia vehicle defect law were properly decided in the Reynolds' favor.
The case is Reynolds et al. v. General Motors Corp., Case Number 08-16182, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.