$13M in Punitives OK’d in Tennessee Wrongful Death Case
Posted Jul 28, 2008 1:30 PM CDT
By Martha Neil
The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a $13 million award of punitive damages against an automobile manufacturer in a closely watched case claiming that a dangerous minivan seat caused the death of an 8-month-old passenger.
But it rejected an additional $6 million in punitives for the mother's emotional distress, reports the Associated Press. Thus, the wrongful death case—which originally involved a $98 million punitive damages award in a 2004 jury verdict—now totals $5 million in compensatory damages and $13 million in punitive damages.
In an intermediate appeal, carmaker DaimlerChrysler Corp. argued there was no evidence proving it acted recklessly or intentionally when it failed to make the seats safer. At that point, "the Court of Appeals agreed, throwing out all but the $5 million in compensatory damages," reports the Nashville Post.
Chrysler allegedly ignored reports of the danger posed by collapsing seats in rear-end crashes and marketed the Dodge Caravan as safe, according to the lawsuit. The baby, Joshua Flax, died in the 2001 accident after a front seat collapsed and another passenger fell on him, fracturing his skull.
"Not only did [Chrysler] fail to warn customers or redesign its product, [Chrysler] hid the evidence and continued to market the Caravan as a vehicle that put safety first," writes Justice Janice Holder for a 3-2 majority.
A spokesman terms the ruling "disappointing" and says Chrysler is considering its legal options, AP reports.