A US appeals court on Friday threw out a $US58.5 million verdict against DaimlerChrysler over airbags in about 75,000 Chrysler vehicles.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania also ruled that the lawsuit never should have been granted class action status in the first place.
The case involved a woman who credits the air bag in her 1989 Chrysler LeBaron with saving her and her unborn child from serious injury — and possibly even death — but who experienced a minor hand burn that healed within two weeks following a 1992 accident.
A jury found Chrysler liable for the burns and awarded $730 to each of 75,000 plaintiffs who owned Chrysler vehicles made between 1988 and 1990. The jury also awarded $3.8 million in punitive damages.
“Twelve years and six million dollars later, a Pennsylvania appeals court has finally determined that Chrysler Group should not be punished for providing an air bag that saved the lives of a Philadelphia mother and her unborn child,” DaimlerChrysler said in a statement.
“Justice was finally served today,” said DaimlerChrysler general counsel Ken Gluckman. “But it’s outrageous that we had to spend six million dollars in defence costs and many years in court to defend a device that has saved over 6,800 lives. This suit is like holding the manufacturer of a bullet-proof vest responsible because its product saved someone’s life, but left a few bruised ribs.”
“This lawsuit is a prime example of trial lawyer greed and class action abuse,” Gluckman added. “Individuals should not be denied the right to sue if they believe they have cause, but in this example even the plaintiffs’ expert acknowledged that 99% of the class members would never be in an accident causing hand burns. Most class members have no idea they were ever part of this lawsuit.”
Ruling in favour of Chrysler Group, the Superior Court determined that “the trial court abused its discretion” and concluded that “the case should not have proceeded to trial as a class action”. The Superior Court’s order to “decertify the class” means the case is finished as a class action.
“The reality of our legal system is that when products are developed or improved trial attorneys line-up and file suit against corporations in hopes of hitting a jackpot,” Gluckman said. “Like other [vehicle] manufacturers, Chrysler group is sued by plaintiffs alleging the company did not install air bags quickly enough, while others file suit because the company installed air bags before the government requirements.”
Chrysler claims to have been the first manufacturer to introduce air bags as standard equipment on affordable, volume-produced vehicles in 1988 and says that air bags are credited with saving 6,856 lives as of April, 2001, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).