A jury awarded $6.5 million in punitive damages Friday to a man who suffered vision loss and brain damage when a Sears Die-Hard battery exploded in his face.
The verdict came the day after Gary Jones, of Redding, and his wife, Mona, were awarded $3.2 million in compensatory damages. It brought the total award to $9.7 million.Their attorney, Harvey Levine, said,"This verdict is a signal that, after 10 years of these tragedies that were documented by the firms themselves on a monthly basis, they should now either recall the batteries or, at the very least, send notice to other owners not to clean corrosion off their batteries," Levine said.
Sears Roebuck & Co. Inc., distributor of the Die-Hard, and Johnson Controls Inc., the manufacturer, were sued for injuries Jones suffered while helping an elderly couple with engine trouble.
After cleaning corrosion from the Die-Hard's side terminal, Jones stood over it as the engine started. The battery exploded, catapulting him into the air. He lost an eye and suffered brain damage that triggers seizures and memory loss.
Attorneys for Sears and Johnson said Jones caused the explosion by ignoring printed warnings and by cracking the battery case through excessive tightening of the terminals.
But Levine, armed with company records obtained after advertising for battery assembly workers outside the firm's Milwaukee headquarters, persuaded the jury the battery had a manufacturing defect.
Despite ample evidence of the defect and the creation of new manufacturing technologies that would circumvent it, Johnson and Sears continued to produce and market defective batteries, Levine said.
Up to 1,000 lawsuits are pending against the two corporations over injuries and damage caused by exploding Die-Hard batteries, he said.
The explosions occur because a defect in side terminals causes a corrosion build-up and deterioration, resulting in a leakage of hydrogen gas, Levine said.
The top layer of corrosion acts "as a final seal to try and keep the hydrogen from coming out." When the corrosion is removed to improve the battery's electrical connection, the hydrogen gas erupts, he said.