The Georgia Supreme Court today unanimously denied seatbelt manufacturer Key Safety Systems’ appeal of a jury verdict that found the company liable for a defective seatbelt involved in the death of Mrs. Penny Bruner. On Nov. 26, 2013, a Gwinnett County, Ga., jury determined the seatbelt manufactured by Key Safety Systems, Inc., was defective and led to the death of Mrs. Bruner when the vehicle in which she 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, holding the company liable for $3,711,532.80 of the total verdict.
The trial judge denied the defendants’ 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 found in the Bruner family’s favor, refusing to disrupt the trial court result. The seatbelt manufacturer appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which today unanimously denied their 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 as of today is $571,709.71. Beasley Allen lawyers Chris Glover and Kendall Dunson, along with Melody Glouton, a lawyer from Lawrenceville, Ga., represented the Bruner family in this case. The total recovery for the Bruner family will be $4,283,242.51 as of today.
“I’m so happy for my client, and very thankful for everyone in our firm who helped this family,” said Glover. “Penney Bruner was a wonderful wife and mother. Her young daughter was driving the vehicle with a learner’s permit at the time of the wreck and blamed herself. This jury verdict really helped her realize that it was only the defective seatbelt that resulted in this tragic loss.”
Mrs. Bruner was an occupant in a 2003 Jeep Wrangler with seatbelts designed and manufactured by Key Safety Systems. She died after 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. The seatbelt system was shown to be defective and 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 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,” Dunson added.