A San Diego Superior Court judge Thursday awarded $9.1 million in compensatory damages to the family of a Chula Vista woman who has been in a coma since 1983, when the General Motors car she was riding in was hit and crumpled because of faulty or non-existent body welds.
Judge Michael Greer announced the award after a three-month court trial. Greer found that the 1978 Oldsmobile Omega in which Irene Siu, 39, was riding was defective, San Diego attorney Harvey Levine said. He also said Greer found that Ronald Bryant, driver of the car that caused the accident, was negligent. Bryant's insurance company has already paid part of the damages, Levine said.
Levine and Santa Ana attorney Mark Robinson represented Siu's husband, Mark, and the couple's two children in the lawsuit. Siu was pregnant at the time of the accident and doctors were forced to deliver a baby girl by Caesarean section because she was comatose. The child, who is almost 3 years old, is in good health, Levine said.
During the trial, expert witnesses testified that the body of a 1978 Oldsmobile Omega normally has 131 body welds in the left rear side. But the car in which Siu was riding had 84 defective or missing welds on that side, the witnesses testified. Siu was sitting in the left rear passenger seat at the time of the accident.
"It's a hidden defect," Robinson said. "The average consumer sees the paint and doesn't know what's underneath the paint. The defects are glossed over by a shiny paint job."
According to Levine, Siu was in a car traveling 55 m.p.h. that was being driven by her husband's cousin when it was hit from behind by Bryant's car, which was traveling about 85 m.p.h. The car was hit as it neared the Old Town turnoff on Interstate 5 on May 29, 1983. Siu was trapped in the car.
The comatose woman has been cared for at home since 1984. Mark Siu is a pharmacist who works at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Diego.
General MotorS officials could not be reached for comment Thursday, and it is not known if the corporation will appeal the award. Attorneys for the Siu family said they did not know how the settlement was to be split between General Motors and Bryant's insurance company.