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Judge Dismisses Suzuki Suit Against Consumer Reports

May 26, 2000|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal judge Thursday dismissed Suzuki Motor Corp.'s product defamation suit against the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, drawing an immediate vow from the car maker to appeal the decision.

Thursday's ruling by District Court Judge Alicemarie Stotler in Santa Ana held that Suzuki had not backed up its claim that the magazine acted maliciously to damage the reputation of the Suzuki Samurai sport-utility when it called the vehicle unsafe in a 1988 review.

The decision came almost 11 months after Stotler heard oral arguments and follows a victory last month by Consumers Union in a similar case filed by Isuzu Motors Ltd.

"We are pleased that a federal court has recognized that Suzuki's case has no merit," Consumers Union President Rhoda H. Karpatkin said Thursday. She repeated the magazine's often-voiced claim that the car makers have been attacking the right of the media to criticize products.

Suzuki sued Consumers Union in 1997 over a reprint of the Samurai review, which said the small SUV showed an unacceptable tendency to roll over during the magazine's accident avoidance test. Suzuki argued that the magazine rigged the test and knowingly printed false information about the Samurai, which has since been discontinued in the U.S.

Consumers Union, however, sought dismissal last year, claiming that Suzuki could not show that it had exhibited willful and negligent disregard for the truth--the so-called actual malice required by law.

The Suzuki ruling follows a jury decision in federal court in Los Angeles last month favoring Consumers Union in Isuzu's product defamation case. In that decision, jurors faulted the magazine for publishing false information about the 1995-96 Isuzu Trooper, but said Isuzu had not proven actual malice.

Suzuki attorney George Ball said Thursday that the car maker will appeal Stotler's ruling "because this decision deprives us of the opportunity to present our case to a jury. Suzuki wants its day in court."

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