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Verdict for Victim in Chevy Rollover Is Upheld

January 15, 2003|Myron Levin

A California appeals court Tuesday affirmed a $25.7-million damage award against General Motors Corp. in the case of a Los Angeles County man who was paralyzed in a rollover crash of a Chevy S-10 Blazer.

The victory by Robbie Lambert, 31, of Rancho Dominguez could signal the end of a marathon case that highlighted the dangers of weak roofs in passenger vehicles, including rollover-prone SUVs. David Heilbron, a lawyer for GM, said it's uncertain whether the company will seek review of the ruling by the state Supreme Court.

Lambert was 18 and an amateur hockey star when he was left a quadriplegic in the crash in July 1990. While driving home from a camping trip, he apparently nodded off, allowing the Blazer to drift off the highway in San Bernardino County and flip over. Lambert was wearing a safety belt but was paralyzed, his lawsuit said, because the roof of the Blazer crushed inward. A companion seated beneath an intact portion of the roof was not seriously injured.

A jury in Victorville awarded more than $15 million in damages in 1992, though the award was cut to $7.5 million by a finding that Lambert was 50% responsible for his injuries. GM appealed, and in 1996 an appeals court found the verdict inconsistent and ordered a new trial.

A jury returned a $25.7-million judgment against the company in January 2001. The jurors found Lambert 40% responsible, cutting the award to over $15 million, though with interest the total will be considerably higher should Lambert's victory stand.

GM said Lambert's injuries were unrelated to the roof failure, arguing that he fell violently into the roof as the Blazer tumbled and would have been paralyzed even if it had resisted collapse.

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