Jury Verdict Reversed in Sudden Acceleration Case

The Missouri Court of Appeals has reversed a jury verdict entered in favor of a brain damaged woman and her husband. The two argued a 1993 Cutlass had a defective cruise control which caused a wreck that injured the woman.

The appellate court held that the trial judge should not have permitted 139 prior incident into evidence because they were not sufficiently similar to the accident at issue. The court also ruled that punitive damages were not appropriate in the case. (Under Missouri law, “punitive damages are appropriate, therefore, only when the defendant’s conduct is outrageous due to evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others, which must be proven by clear and convincing evidence”.)

Importantly, however, the appellate court did hold that the plaintiffs presented “evidence that Mrs. Peter’s accident was not “an operator created incident,” that the cruise control mechanism located on the Peters’ vehicle was defectively designed and dangerous; that a single transient fault actuated the throttle of the vehicle and caused the accident; that the vehicle accelerated from the tree to the planter after Mrs. Peters was unconscious and, therefore, was unable to press the accelerator with her foot; that General Motors engineers became concerned in the late 1980s that the cruise control system might cause sudden unwanted acceleration and recommended that General Motors install another type of system; and that General Motors had never warned customers about the defective nature of the cruise control system, the evidence was sufficient to make a submissible case of strict liability — design defect, strict liability — failure to warn, and negligence.”

Read the entire opinion (and dissent) here.