A district court jury has awarded a Montana man $1.29 million after finding General Motors Corp. at fault because a 4-wheel-drive pickup truck rolled over him while he was working on it.
The verdict represents the first case nationally where the 4-wheel-drive design used by GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. between 1973 and 1979 has been challenged at trial, said Dennis Conner of Great Falls, Krueger's lawyer.The jury said the truck was defective and caused the injuries that paralyzed him.
Jurors deliberated about five hours last week before reaching a unanimous verdict. The jury found that an open-differential design in the 1976 Chevrolet pickup's transfer case was unreasonably dangerous and that the automaker failed to warn consumers.
The jury said both failures contributed to Andrew Krueger's injuries in the Feb. 17, 1983, accident.
The jury ruling not only ends five years of legal efforts by Krueger but also "we now have a verdict here in Montana that says, `This product is unreasonably dangerous' and that they have failed to warn," the lawyer said.
"That has to have implications that reach all the way back . . . to Detroit," Conner said.
The jury found no liability by Krueger for his injuries.
Curtis Thompson, a defense lawyer, said the defense team was assessing options such as post-trial motions and possibly an appeal.
The verdict ended a two-week trial before District Judge Thomas McKittrick.
The trial centered on the full-time four-wheel-drive design used on GM's and other automakers' vehicles between 1973 and 1979. The plaintiffs sought to show the open-differential design in the transfer case of the four-wheel drive defectively allowed a vehicle that was stopped and in the park gear to roll if one wheel were jacked up or the driveshaft dropped.
Krueger was injured in the accident on a sloping driveway in Great Falls. An unemployed man with about five years' experience as a mechanic, Krueger was paralyzed from the upper chest down after he slipped under his borrowed full-time four-wheel-drive pickup and disconnected its front driveshaft.
The vehicle was set on park and four-wheel drive, though Krueger had not blocked its wheels, used the parking brake nor put four-wheel drive in the lock position.