March 2, 2018
In 2012, Missouri resident Michael Bavlsik was returning from home to St. Louis following a trip to Minnesota, his GMC Savana filled with eight other passengers, including two of his sons. After his passenger van struck a boat being towed by another vehicle, the GMC Savana flipped, and, although he was wearing his seatbelt at the time, Bavlsik struck his head against the collapsed ceiling, suffering a cervical-spinal cord injury that left the father of eight quadriplegic.
Bavlsik and his wife, Kathleen Skelly, brought suit against General Motors (GM) in March 2013, alleging that the seat-belt system lacked three important safety components and that the lack of these components and the failure to conduct adequate testing rendered the design negligent. They further sued GM for a failure to warn. While a jury subsequently found that the GMC Savana van did not contain any design defects that were responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, the jury did find negligence on GM’s part for failure to test and awarded Bavlsik $1 million in damages.
Agreeing with GM, the trial court tossed the jury verdict, finding it illogical for the jury to have found no design defect but a failure to adequately test for a defect that did not exist. The trial court then agreed to plaintiffs’ request for a new trial based solely on the damages issue, but GM appealed to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with the plaintiffs and the lower court, remanding the case for a new trial solely on the issue of damages.
Now, GM has asked the United States Supreme Court to step in to resolve what GM describes as a great deal of disagreement among lower courts on how such matters are to be decided. The existing test applied by courts—often referred to as the “Gasoline Products exemption” after the precedent-setting decision that first applied it—has been applied differently by different courts across the country, GM contends.
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