Calling a decision by a San Diego County Superior Court jury “inconsistent,” a state appeals court in California has overturned a $3.5 million verdict for a couple who blamed a “defective” 2005 Corvette for causing a fire that destroyed their home in 2010 and then sued General Motors.
The original jury had returned a special verdict, saying that the Corvette had performed as safely as could be expected and GM was not strictly liable, but then turned around and held GM liable for negligence, awarding Herbert and Patti Boekamp $3.5 million in compensatory damages.
The original judge had instructed the jury to examine the case under res ipsa loquitur, which states that negligence can sometimes be inferred from the circumstances of an accident or other outcome.
The appeals court, however, said that res ipsa loquitur doesn’t apply to this case because the defendant must have exclusive control over an “agency or instrumentality.” In this case, however, the Corvette had been out of GM’s possession for four years, serviced regularly, and taken in for inspection and repair of electrical components in the dash several times.
A jury therefore cannot find negligence without a defect, according to the appeals court.
“The jury here, however, did just that: It found GM was negligent even though it also found the Corvette was not defective under the consumer expectation test, the only strict products liability test on which the Boekamps requested the jury be instructed,” the panel said, noting that such a judgment must be overturned.
The original settlement had come as part of a lawsuit against GM over what they claimed was a defective telescoping steering column in a 2005 Corvette belonging to Patti Boekamp.
“Two hours after my wife came home and parked the car in the garage, the car caught fire and took the 5,300-square-foot house with it,” her husband, Herbert Boekamp, said.
Also lost in the January 16, 2010 fire was a 1962 Corvette.
Fortunately, the family escaped unharmed, despite the fact that several hard-wired smoke alarms didn’t work because the fire burned the circuits. Herbert Boekamp was awakened by the smell of smoke.
Once they had exited the burning house, Mr. Boekamp noticed a trail of gasoline that leaked out of the garage.
“When the car melted down, the gas rolled out of the garage and caught the outside of the home on fire; that was the first clue that it was the car,” he said earlier.