GM settles lawsuit with Jernigan

posted on:
April 21, 2004

Jared Felkins

A case involving a Bullock County man that has man made its way through the Alabama court system was settled last Friday.

Attorneys’ representing Jeffrey Jernigan accepted an undisclosed amount of money as settlement in the Jernigan v. General Motor trial. Montgomery attorney Greg Allen of the law firm of Jere Beasley said Friday that General Motors wanted strict confidentiality as to the amount of the settlement.

“Quite frankly, it surprised me that it was settled,” Allen said. “Obviously, it’s an emotional letdown for me.”

The case, which was set to begin Monday and be heard by Circuit Judge Burt Smithart, was moved to Barbour County following a motion that stated GM would not get a fair trial in Bullock County.

The case stems from a 1999 accident, in which Jernigan was a passenger. Jernigan’s attorneys contended the severe head injuries sustained by Jernigan in the accident were due to numerous design defects of the 1993 Oldsmobile Delta 88 involved.

The case was originally tried in Bullock County and an $82 million verdict was handed down in favor of Jernigan in May of 2002. In December 2003, however, the state Supreme Court overturned the case and sent it to be retried.

The Supreme Court overturned the case because it said Smithart erred when he failed to grant General Motor’s request to exclude five jurors who were relatives to an attorney associated with one of the law firms representing Jernigan.

According to the Supreme Court, a new trial was ordered due to jurors being related to state Sen. Myron Penn, an attorney who was associated with one of the law firms representing the plaintiff. Penn sat in the courtroom during jury selection, according to the Supreme Court decision.

Allen said the Supreme Court adopted a new standard in overturning the case.

“When Smithart heard the case, the law was that an attorney could be in the courtroom and his relatives could serve on the jury if he was not a party in the case,’ Allen said.

Despite the history of the case, Allen said he had to accept the final decision of his clients.

“We have to do what is in the best interest of out clients,” Allen said. “We proved in the first trial and would have proven in the second trial that the vehicle had serious defects. There was no question we had a solid case. It was just as strong the second time.”

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