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From Products Liability Law Daily, August 6, 2014

Wrongful death suit claims Chevy Impala rear seatbelt defective

By John W. Scanlan, J.D.

The estate of a woman who was fatally injured while riding in the back seat of a 2002 Chevrolet Impala has filed suit against General Motors and TRW, alleging that the vehicle’s rear seat belt, which had been manufactured by TRW, was responsible for her death because it was defectively designed and manufactured (Cantrell v. General Motors LLC, August 5, 2014).

Background. Wanda J. Watson was a passenger in the back seat of a 2002 Chevrolet Impala when it was involved in an accident with another vehicle, resulting in her death. The rear seat belt system was manufactured by TRW Vehicle Safety Systems, Inc. Her estate brought suit against General Motors, General Motors of Canada, and TRW, alleging that the rear driver-side occupant restraint system was designed, manufactured, and sold in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition.

General allegations against GM. The estate asserted strict liability claims against GM and GM of Canada, arguing that they knew of safer and more practical feasible alternative designs for the rear seat belt system which would have reduced the injuries to her and possibly prevented her death. The estate’s negligence claims alleged that the two companies have held themselves out as having special expertise in the motor vehicle business and, thus, owed the decedent a duty to use reasonable care in designing and building GM vehicles, which they violated. According to the complaint, GM and GM of Canada were wanton in their manufacture, sale, and distribution of the car involved, which proximately caused the decedent’s injuries and death. The estate also charged the two companies with negligent and wanton failure to warn that the left rear occupant restraint system was susceptible to failure when used in a foreseeable manner that would subject users to an unreasonable risk of injury. Finally, the estate brought claims for breach of express and/or implied warranties against GM and GM of Canada.

General allegations against TRW. The estate brought similar claims against TRW. It asserted TRW was strictly liable for the failure of the seat belt system, and was negligent in its design, manufacture, sale, test or failure to test, and distribution of the system. TRW was also wanton in its conduct, according to the complaint. The estate also alleged negligent and wanton failure to warn claims against TRW, stating that the seat belt manufacturer was in a superior position than the decedent to know of the alleged dangers of the seat belt from its allegedly dangerous and defective condition. Finally, the complaint stated that TRW was liable for breaches of express and/or implied warranties.

Relief sought. The estate asked for GM, GM Canada, and TRW to be held liable for economic and non-economic compensatory damages, punitive damages, and interest and costs for each of the counts.

The case number is 1:14-CV-128-GHD-SAA.

Attorneys: Ronald Dale Michael (Ronald D. Michael, Attorney at Law) for Timothy Bryan Cantrell.

Companies: General Motors, LLC; General Motors of Canada Ltd.; TRW Vehicle Safety Systems, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory MotorVehiclesNews MotorEquipmentNews WarningsNews DesignManufacturingNews DamagesNews MississippiNews

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