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Defective automotive design - Wrongful death - Plaintiffs allege that roof collapse on SUV following collision causes death of professional football player.

Jackson County, Missouri

On January 23, ________, the plaintiffs’ decedent, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, was driving a ________ Chevrolet Suburban and traveling westbound on I-________ in Kansas City, Mo. The decedent lost control of the vehicle, which then veered off the road and onto the median, rolling over three complete times before coming to rest on its wheels. The decedent was not wearing his seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle. He suffered a broken back as a result of the accident and died of related complications on February 8, ________. The front seat passenger, who also was not wearing his seatbelt, was also ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. The back seat passenger who was wearing his seat belt remained inside the vehicle and walked away with only minor injuries.

Mr. Thomas’s mother and his seven children, through their five mothers, sued the manufacturer of the Suburban, General Motors Corp., under products liability theories. Plaintiffs alleged that the decedent’s injuries and subsequent death resulted when the roof allegedly crushed in on him while he was still in the vehicle. Plaintiffs claimed that the Suburban’s roof was defective and sought $75 million to $________ million in compensatory damages, as well as unspecified punitive damages.

The defendant denied the allegations and defended the cause both as to the claims of product defect and as to the causation issue.

The defendant presented evidence that the ________ Chevrolet Suburban had one of the best safety records of all vehicles on the road and exceeded federal safety standards related to roof strength by more than 50%. In addition, the defendant countered that the decedent driver was driving too fast for the icy road conditions and was ejected from the vehicle before any alleged roof crush occurred. The defendant steadfastly maintained that all of the decedent’s injuries were caused when he was ejected from the vehicle, flung across to the other side of highway I-________, and landed on the pavement, not as a result of any alleged roof defect.

The trial in this case concluded after five weeks with the jury deliberating for five hours and determining that the defendant was not at fault. Consequently, the jury entered a verdict for the defendant. The trial judge also granted the defendant’s motion for directed verdict on the issue of punitive damages at the close of the plaintiffs’ direct case.

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