Lawyers in our firm won a substantial jury verdict last month on behalf of our clients in a wrongful death action filed against a seat belt manufacturer. The case was tried for two weeks in Gwinnett County, Ga. The jurors found Key Safety Systems, Inc., the sole defendant, liable for a defective seat belt that caused the death of Mrs. Penney Bruner. The vehicle in which Mrs. Bruner was a passenger was involved in a rollover accident. The jurors awarded the Bruner family $4.639,000. Chris Glover and Kendall Dunson, lawyers in our firm, along with Melody Glouton, a lawyer from Lawrenceville, Ga., represented the Bruner family in this case.
Mrs. Bruner was an occupant in a 2003 Jeep Wrangler with seat belts designed and manufactured by Key Safety Systems. Mrs. Bruner died after she was ejected from the front passenger seat during a rollover crash on Sept. 23, 2007. She was correctly wearing her seat belt at the time. Mrs. Bruner was ejected from the Jeep Wrangler because the seat belt failed and came unlocked during the rollover. The seat belt system in the vehicle was shown to be extremely dangerous because it tends to unlock during rollover crashes.
This safety defect put the public at risk and would have been prevented if Key Safety Systems had installed a web sensor on the seat belt retractor. Virtually every vehicle in the 2003 model year used a web sensor seat belt. The jury was shocked to learn that the 2003 Jeep Wrangler had a web sensor four feet away from Mrs. Bruner on the driver’s seat belt. Because a web sensor was available and it worked, the driver survived this rollover with minor injuries. Sadly, Mrs. Bruner was ejected and killed.
It’s inexcusable that Key Safety Systems provided Penney Bruner with an unsafe seat belt. Every company in the seat belt industry, including Key Safety Systems, knew full well that seat belts with web sensors prevented deaths because the occupants would remain in the vehicle rather than being ejected from it. In fact, the majority of seat belt manufacturers in 2003 used web sensors. It’s highly significant Key Safety Systems provided the web sensor for the driver’s seat belt in the very same vehicle and the driver survived.
This verdict tells Key Safety Systems that the safety of its consumers is critically important and must be paramount. This is especially true because the company was designing and manufacturing a seat belt whose sole purpose was to protect occupants during a vehicle crash. Our society understands that life is precious. When a company such as Key Safety Systems violates the public trust, and is before a court, responsible jurors like the ones who heard the facts of this case will hold that company responsible for its wrongdoing. Mrs. Bruner’s death was tragic, but sadly clearly avoidable. If Key Safety Systems had put the same web sensor on the passenger’s seat belt that it had put on the driver’s seat belt, I wouldn’t be reporting on the verdict in the Bruner case. This lady would still be alive.
This was an extremely important verdict in the automotive industry because the verdict rendered was against a component level manufacturer (Key Safety Systems) rather than the automobile manufacturer. The jury’s verdict sends a message to all manufacturers of component parts that they cannot hide behind the car companies and avoid their own responsibility for the defective products they design, manufacture and provide to the car companies. They also have a responsibility to make cars safe and a jury will hold them responsible when they fail to do so. Chris, Kendall and Melody did an outstanding job in this case and the jury sent a safety message to manufacturers of component parts.
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