MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The state Supreme Court overturned an $82 million verdict against General Motors on Friday, saying that the jury was improperly selected for the product-defect case last year.
Under state law, the judge should have excluded five potential jurors who were related to an attorney associated with a plaintiff’s law firm, the Supreme Court ruled. GM had to use its jury strikes to remove the five relatives, meaning those strikes weren’t available later to remove other objectionable jurors.
The court ordered a new trial because of the error. However, the court ruled 4-3 to reject a GM appeal that the plaintiffs didn’t prove a design defect in the car. The plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence for the jury to consider whether a safer, practical design was available to GM, the court said.
The jury returned a $122 million verdict against GM for a 1999 wreck that left Jeffrey Jernigan, then 12, with severe brain injuries. The verdict was automatically cut to $82 million because of a state law limiting punitive damages.
Jeffrey was riding in the front seat of a 1993 Oldsmobile Delta 88 when it and another vehicle collided. The passenger compartment of the car collapsed around him. The lawsuit contended GM’s product was defective and dangerous.
One of Jernigan’s attorneys, Jere Beasley, said Friday, ‘We’ll try it again, and in my opinion, the verdict will be the same. The tragedy of it is the child is still in the same condition.”
GM spokeswoman Brenda Rios said the Supreme Court came to the right conclusion Friday. “We will vigorously defend the case if it goes to trial again,” she said.