Tennessee’s Supreme Court has upheld an award of $18.4 million in damages against DaimlerChrysler Corp. Two of the five justices dissented. The court ruled that a faulty seat design led to the death of a baby on a Nashville street in 2001. The ruling overturned a Tennessee Court of Appeals decision that threw out an award of $13.4 million in punitive damages for parents of 8-month-old Joshua Flax. The appeals court concurred with a $5 million compensatory damage award.
Young Joshua died in a crash that occurred on June 30, 2001. A pickup truck driver rear-ended the 1998 Dodge Caravan doing 70 mph in a 35 mph zone. Joshua Flax was riding in a car seat. The front passenger seat collapsed on top of the baby, who was fatally injured. The parents claimed in their lawsuit that the car maker knew its seats tended to collapse backward in rear-end collision but did nothing to fix the problem. A former chair of the Minivan Safety Leadership Team at Chrysler testified that his group decided in 1993 to advocate changes in the seats because of the danger. In November 2004, a jury found Defendants jointly liable for the baby’s death and imposed total damages of $105 million, but the trial judge found that amount excessive and reduced it to $27.5 million.
On appeal, DaimlerChrysler argued that the evidence did not prove that it acted recklessly or intentionally in failing to make the seats safer. The Court of Appeals agreed, throwing out all but the $5 million in compensatory damages. In its ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court in denying $9.1 million in damages for emotional distress. But the high court reinstated the punitive damages award in its entirety.
Writing for the majority, Justice Janice Holder said there was “a wealth of evidence supporting the jury’s verdict.” She cited testimony that DaimlerChrysler “had received notice of children injured by yielding seatbacks as early as the mid-1980s.” She noted that accidents similar to the one that killed Joshua Flax had injured children on six other occasions.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.