A Gwinnett County, Ga., jury found Key Safety Systems, Inc., liable for a defective seatbelt that they determined led to the death of Mrs. Penney Bruner when the vehicle in which she was a passenger was involved in a rollover accident. They awarded Mrs. Bruner’s family $4.639 million. Beasley Allen attorneys Chris Glover and Kendall Dunson, along with attorney Melody Glouton of Lawrenceville, Ga., represented the Bruner family in this case.
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. Her ejection from the Jeep Wrangler was possible because the seatbelt failed and came unlocked during the rollover. The seatbelt system was shown to be 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 survived this rollover with minor injuries.
“It is inexcusable that Key Safety Systems provided Penney Bruner with an unsafe seatbelt. Everyone in the seatbelt industry, including Key Safety Systems, knew that seatbelts with web sensors prevented deaths because the occupants would remain in the vehicle rather than being thrown from it. The majority of seatbelt manufacturers used web sensors in 2003. In fact, Key Safety Systems included the web sensor for the driver’s seatbelt in the same vehicle and she survived,” said Beasley Allen lawyer Chris Glover. “This verdict tells Key Safety Systems that the safety of its consumers must be paramount, especially if you are designing and manufacturing a seat belt that has the sole purpose of protecting occupants during a wreck. Our society understands that life is precious. When a company like Key Safety Systems violates the public trust, then responsible jurors like the ones that heard the facts of this case will hold it responsible. Mrs. Bruner’s death was tragic and avoidable had Key Safety Systems put in the same web sensor on the passenger’s seatbelt as was put on the driver’s seatbelt.”
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. They also have a responsibility to make cars safe and a jury will hold them responsible when they don’t. The case is Bruner v. Key Safety Systems, Inc., et al, 09C-16647-5.