Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Court Reverses Damage Award in Accident Suit

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Court Reverses Damage Award in Accident Suit

Article excerpt

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a St. Louis Circuit Court jury's decision awarding $40 million to a woman injured in an accident involving a Suzuki Samurai sport utility vehicle.

In a 6-1 decision, the court said evidence of alcohol consumption by those involved in the accident as well as its witnesses should have been submitted to the jury. In the ruling, the court also set a higher standard for jurors to use when considering punitive damages.

"We're stunned and disappointed," said James Butler, one of the lawyers who represented Katie Rodriguez, a woman paralyzed from the chest down as a result of the accident. In 1990, the jury awarded Rodriguez $30 million in actual damages and $60 million in punitive damages from Suzuki Motor C orp. Circuit Judge Anna C. Forder later reduced the awards to $20 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages. Suzuki had appealed. The opinion, written by Judge Duane Benton, reversed the outcome of the 3-month-long trial and returned the case to St. Louis for retrial. "It's an unusual decision in that they changed the law on us," said Butler of Atlanta. "And it's very unusual for the court to change the law and apply it retroactively." John Wallach, a St. Louis lawyer who also represented Rodriguez, said he had reached her with the news Tuesday afternoon. "Katie is a fighter," Wallach said. "She is pretty tough. On the scale of the bad things that happened to her, this is a paper loss rather than a real loss. We are going to keep fighting it. It's not over till it's over." Lawyers for Suzuki had no comment. In February 1990 Rodriguez, now 31, was a front-seat passenger in a 1988 Suzuki Samurai driving by a friend, Debbie Dubis. Another friend, Lisa Nunally, was in the back seat. As the vehicle headed east on Highway 94 in Warren County, Dubis drove off the pavement. According to Suzuki, Dubis' vehicle hit the side of a driveway and flipped onto its side. While Rodriguez's attorneys focused on whether the Samurai was prone to rolling over, evidence that the three had been drinking at a winery in Hermann, Mo., was withheld from the jury. …

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