The Georgia Supreme Court last month unanimously denied seatbelt manufacturer Key Safety Systems’ appeal of the jury verdict that found the company liable for a defective seatbelt involved in the death of Mrs. Penny Bruner. On Nov. 26, 2013, a jury in Gwinnett County, Ga., found the seatbelt manufactured by Key Safety Systems, Inc., to be defective, leading to the death of Mrs. Bruner. The vehicle in which Mrs. Bruner was a passenger was involved in a rollover accident.
The jury awarded Mrs. Bruner’s family $4.639 million and assessed 80 percent fault to Key Safety Systems, making the company liable for $3,711,532.80 of the total verdict. The trial judge denied the Defendant’s post-trial motions and the seatbelt manufacturer appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals. On Nov. 19, 2015, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in the Bruner family’s favor, refusing to disrupt the trial court result.
The seatbelt manufacturer then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which unanimously denied the company’s petition. To date, 12 jurors, one trial judge and 12 appellate judges have found in favor of the Bruner family. The interest accrued on the verdict was more than $575,000 at press time. The Supreme Court has ordered that the verdict plus interest and costs be paid, which is very good news for our clients.
Mrs. Bruner was an occupant in a 2003 Jeep Wrangler with seatbelts designed and manufactured by Key Safety Systems. She was ejected from the front passenger seat during a rollover crash on Sept. 23, 2007, even though she correctly wore her seatbelt. Mrs. Bruner’s ejection from the Jeep Wrangler occurred because the seatbelt failed and came unlocked during the rollover. Our lawyer proved at trial that the seatbelt system was defective and extremely dangerous. The seat belt 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 seatbelt retractor.
A web sensor is a redundant safety feature that assures the belt stays locked. Virtually every vehicle in the 2003 model year used a web sensor seatbelt. The jury was shocked to discover that even the 2003 Jeep Wrangler had a web sensor four feet away from Mrs. Bruner on the driver’s seatbelt. Because of the web sensor, the driver of the Bruner vehicle survived this rollover with only minor injuries.
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 component manufacturers that they cannot hide behind the car companies and avoid their own responsibility for the defective products they design and manufacture. Beasley Allen lawyers Chris Glover and Kendall Dunson, along with Anthony Powell and Melody Glouton, both lawyers from Lawrenceville, Ga., represented the Bruner family in this case. Also, Robin Frazer Clark, a very good lawyer from from Atlanta, Ga., assisted with the appeal and she did an outstanding job.
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