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Honeywell loses seat belt verdict

A federal jury in Texas awards $24 million to the family of a teen who was killed in a crash.

February 20, 2007|From Bloomberg News

Honeywell International Inc. was ordered by a Texas jury to pay $24 million to the family of an 18-year-old woman who was killed in a sport utility vehicle rollover accident.

The family of Lauren Frazier claimed she was killed when a seat belt manufactured by Honeywell failed. Frazier was ejected from a Chevrolet Tahoe she was riding in when it rolled over. She died at the scene, said her family's attorney, Todd Tracy, who argued the seat belt's buckle unlatched on its own.

"Honeywell knew since 1989, by doing testing, that it was unlatching and they didn't do anything to prevent it," Tracy said of the seat belt.

The U.S. District Court jury in Marshall, Texas, awarded Frazier's family $24 million in actual damages Thursday, three days after the trial began. The lawsuit, resulting in a rare victory at trial for plaintiffs in such cases, is one of several hundred against automakers and seat belt manufacturers claiming inertial unlatching of seat belts. The verdict may lead to more settlements, said auto safety advocate Sean Kane.

"It's something plaintiffs will point to in discussions," said Kane, of Safety Research & Strategies Inc. in Rehoboth, Mass. "Any time you get a large verdict, it raises more eyebrows."

A Honeywell spokeswoman said the Morris Township, N.J.-based company would appeal.

"There was no credible evidence presented that the seat belt was defective or that it failed at the time of the accident," said spokeswoman Victoria Streitfeld. "Insurance will fully cover the verdict if we are not successful on appeal."

Honeywell said at trial that Frazier wasn't wearing her seat belt, Tracy said.

Frazier was a passenger in the Chevy Tahoe in August 2004 in Longview, Texas, when another vehicle turned into its path.

Frazier was wearing her seat belt when she was ejected from the vehicle, Tracy argued.

"There was medical evidence of this," including bruises on her shoulder from the belt, caused before it failed, he said. "There was a lot of physical evidence as well," including pulled fibers from the belt, the lawyer added.

The Fraziers didn't sue General Motors Corp., maker of the Tahoe, because the seat belt was designed by Honeywell, Tracy said.

Honeywell, the world's largest maker of airplane controls, also makes automobile parts, including seat belts.

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