A jury has ordered Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors to pay $11 million in compensatory damages to a couple whose son died after being partially ejected from a sport utility vehicle.
Attorneys for Donna and Peter Laliberte of Maine argued that Mitsubishi put their Montero SUV on the market despite known problems with the seat belt. The couple’s 25-year-old son Scott died hours after a rollover crash in 2004. Even though he was wearing his passenger side seat belt, Scott was catapulted backward through the rear window, attorney W. Hampton Keen told jurors.
The attorneys further argued that the automaker took the unprecedented step of releasing a new version of the vehicle halfway through the 2000 model year to correct the flaws but never told customers about the defect in the earlier model.
Defense lawyer David Graves countered that the model was not redesigned to correct flaws in the seat belt. It focused on the vehicle’s front structure, Graves said, although he acknowledged that the changes were prompted by poor crash tests.
Jurors awarded the couple $10 million for pain and suffering, and the rest for funeral expenses and other losses. Teary-eyed, jurors embraced the Lalibertes as they left the courtroom.
The lawsuit was filed in the Palm Beach County circuit court because the car company has business operations based in the area.
Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Motors Corp. declined comment and referred to its U.S. unit.
Mitsubishi Motors’s reputation has been battered by a scandal over the systematic cover-up of auto defects that resulted in massive recalls. The scandal surfaced in 2000, when the company acknowledged it had hidden defects for decades, secretly repairing them without proper recalls despite reports of dozens of accidents.
“We are very pleased the jury recognized the magnitude of the loss sustained by the Lalibertes of a magnificent young man and a loss that didn’t need to be suffered if Mitsubishi had simply done the right thing,” Keen said.
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