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Verdict Is Overturned in Suit Over Blazer Design

Courts: Judges say jury's finding that GM was negligent yet the vehicle had no defect was inconsistent.


A state appeals court on Wednesday overturned a $7.5-million jury verdict for a South Bay man who alleged that design defects in General Motors' Chevy S-10 Blazer caused him to become a quadriplegic after a crash eight years ago.

The 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside said jurors rendered an inconsistent verdict when they decided a suit against the auto maker by Robbie Lambert, a former amateur hockey player.

A Victorville jury found that there was no defect in the design of the Chevy Blazer. Yet the same jurors also determined that General Motors was negligent in the design of the vehicle.

"If the design of the Blazer was not defective, General Motors could not be deemed negligent," a three-judge panel of the court said.

The crash occurred in July 1990 when Lambert and a friend were returning from a camping trip to Lake Havasu, Ariz.

Lambert, then 18, was driving at about 65 mph at 1:30 a.m. when he apparently fell asleep at the wheel. The vehicle veered off a deserted stretch of Interstate 40 in San Bernardino and rolled over.

Lambert said in his suit that a defect, particularly in the roof and seat belt design, caused his injuries.

The jury awarded him $15 million but slashed that in half, noting his "comparative fault" in the accident, according to the appeals court.

Leslie G. Landau, a San Francisco attorney for the auto maker, welcomed the appeals court decision. "The court was clearly right in finding a manufacturer could not negligently design a product that the jury found was not defective," she said.

But Lambert's lawyer, Michael J. Piuze, said he plans to appeal the court's decision to the California Supreme Court, saying other courts have "harmonized" similar inconsistencies by juries.

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