Michigan's Wayne County juries are known for their friendliness to big settlements in favor of plaintiffs, adding just a bit more significance to DaimlerChrysler AG's victory in a recent minivan air bag suit.
DC was cleared May 11 in a lawsuit that claimed that 7-year-old Allison Sanders' death was caused by an improperly tested and "terribly aggressive" air bag in her family's 1995 Dodge Caravan.
The jury voted 7-1 to clear the automaker after a little more than five hours of deliberations following the five-week trial. Sanders family attorney Susan Lister said the verdict likely will be appealed.
The family blamed the passenger air bag in the girl's death, saying the device had not been adequately tested and was rushed to market knowing it could kill a child seated in front of it. The family also argued that DC had failed to adequately warn consumers about the dangers of air bags.
DC's attorneys countered that the child was not properly belted in when her father, Robert, drove through a red light and crashed into another minivan in Baltimore in October 1995.
The case was the second of a child being killed in a DC minivan to go to trial. In a 1995 New York case, a jury found the company partially responsible, but the judge later threw out the verdict. It is now on appeal.
Federal statistics credit air bags with saving 5,303 lives but link the devices to 153 deaths, including 91 children.
The court decision came a week after the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. introduces new rules requiring auto-makers to design and test air bags for children and smaller occupants, who have proved most vulnerable to the force of an air bag. The rules lower the minimum crash speed from 30 mph to 25 mph, drawing criticism from some consumer groups.
Meanwhile, General Motors Corp. announces plans to offer side curtain air bags and dual-phase air bags on several '01 models. Sensors in the passenger seat determine if an air bag should deploy and how fast based on the rider's position and size.
Saturn Corp. will offer the optional (less than $500) side curtain system, while the dual-phase front air bags - which deploy at different speeds depending on the rate of vehicle deceleration - will be standard on the Cadillac Seville, Chevy Impala and Monte Carlo, Pontiac Bonneville, Olds Aurora and Buick LeSabre.
A Spirited Game Of Musical Chairs DaimlerChrysler Corp. counters its string of defections with a bit of a coup: luring the head of quality for General Motors Corp. Thomas LaSorda, a one-time contender to succeed Donald Hackworth as GM's head of North American manu-facturing, jumps to DCC as senior vice president of power-train manufacturing. Insiders say GM tried hard to keep Mr. LaSorda but speculate that he may have been lured away because it appeared he would not get Mr. Hack-worth's job. Mr. LaSorda replaces Carlos Lobo, who becomes president and chief executive of New Venture Gear Inc., a DCC-GM joint venture. Mr. Lobo takes over from Fred Hubacker, who drops to vice president, chief administrative officer. Meanwhile, the top quality position at DCC remains vacant with the loss of Cynthia Hess, vice president of corporate quality, who quit to become a partner in Heartland Industrial Group of Bloomfield Hills, MI, a private equity firm that has amassed $1 billion or more to invest in undervalued industrial companies (see p.64). As head of small car platform engineering, Ms. Hess led the design and development of the PT Cruiser, new Neon, Viper, Prowler and Avenger. At GM, Debra J. Kelly-Ennis is named general manager of Oldsmobile Div. Ms. Kelly-Ennis, formerly brand manager for Chevrolet S-10 trucks, replaces a departing Karen C. Francis. GM also reveals it has lured former Renault SA designer Anne Asensio to head up GM's brand studio designers in Warren, MI. Ms. Asensio is credited with designing the concept car that led to Renault's hot Megane Scenic microvan. Industry insiders say she's talented but may be in over her head at GM. The spirited game of musical chairs also saw Kurt Kavajecz leave Ford Motor Co. to take over as plant manager at DCC's Belvidere, IL, assembly plant.