A New Jersey appellate panel has upheld a $5 million verdict in a lawsuit filed against a Chevrolet dealer. The suit was brought by a family who suffered serious injuries in a rollover accident after the vehicle’s rear tire blew out. The Appeals Court said in its ruling that the trial judge had not abused his discretion. In a per curiam opinion, the New Jersey Appellate Division rejected Flemington Buick Chevrolet Pontiac GMC’s arguments that it was deprived of a fair trial and that the judge’s reduced $3 million punitive damages award was excessive. The appellate panel found that the trial judge had rightfully denied the car dealer’s request for a mistrial and did not err in imposing the $3 million award.
Carla Ceasar and her parents, Edna Allen and the late Roy E. Allen, sued Atlantic Tire & Service and Flemington after the plaintiffs sustained serious injuries when the 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer that Ms. Ceasar was driving in April 2009 rolled over multiple times following a blowout of the rear right tire. Atlantic settled with the plaintiffs, and the claims against Flemington went to trial, ultimately resulting in a $5.5 million judgment.
The trial court found Flemington negligent and that its negligence was the proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ damages. Ms. Ceasar was awarded $1.1 million; Erna Allen was awarded $450,000, plus an additional $100,000 on her loss-of-consortium claim; and $350,000 was awarded to Roy Allen’s estate. After Judge Dumont asked the jury to consider whether the evidence demonstrated that Flemington acted with reckless disregard, the jury found that it did and awarded $5.5 million in punitive damages. The trial judge reduced that award to $3 million in post-trial proceedings.
According to the opinion, Flemington had failed to detect the bald spot that caused the tire blowout during three inspections of the vehicle and thus failed to recommend a tire replacement that would have prevented the accident. The plaintiffs are represented by Kevin E. Barber and Christopher W. Hager of Niedweske Barber Hager LLC, located in St. Morristown, N.J. These lawyers did a very good job in this case.
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