SAN DIEGO—A jury in San Diego has cleared BMW, Performance Tire & Service Center of San Diego, and a service station of product liability claims in a lawsuit that resulted from a serious personal injury rollover accident. The suit was brought by Mary Tatum, then 48, and her 18-year-old daughter, college student Meredith Merkin, of La Jolla, Calif., who were seriously injured in an August 1993 single-vehicle crash while driving a leased 1989 BMW 325i convertible in Arizona. Ms. Tatum, who is institutionalized, suffered profound brain damage and spastic quadriplegia; Ms. Merkin suffered a compression fracture of the spine and has recovered.
According to trial testimony, Ms. Tatum lost control of the car which slid onto the median, then rolled over four times. During the rollover, the battery separated from its mounting and ruptured, allegedly burning Ms. Tatum. She was ejected, although she was wearing a three-point lap/shoulder belt.
After a seven-week trial and six hours of deliberations, the jury found no basis for the plaintiffs' claims that the right rear replacement tire on the car was defective, and that the aftermarket battery had been negligently installed. The jury also rejected claims that the BMW's seat restraint system and windshield were defective.
Performance Tire & Service Center had sold and installed the tires on the car. The lawsuit also named the tires' manufacturer, Michelin Tire Co. and its Uniroyal Goodrich Co. subsidiary, arguing the tires were defective and failed to meet BMW specifications for size, load capacity and speed rating. Michelin and Uniroyal settled before trial for about $800,000.
The plaintiffs blamed the crash on a series of defective products, while the defendants that went to trial argued it was Ms. Tatum's speed—more than 105 mph along Interstate 8 south of Phoenix.
``The real key issue for the jury was the speed. While it was in dispute, it exceeded the normal design limitations of the three-point belt,'' said lawyer Robert Heft, who defended BMW. BMW's position was that high speed was responsible for the ejection.
An expert for the plaintiffs calculated the car's speed at 80.5 mph, but the defense presented a witness who estimated the speed at ``in excess of 105 mph,'' said Mark Berry of San Diego, a lawyer for Performance Tire. He attributed the tire failure to a puncture while it was run underinflated at high speed.