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Jury Awards Family $3.3 Million Over Rear Lap Belts

December 19, 1987

BALTIMORE (AP) _ A federal jury has ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay a family $3.3 million in what attorneys say is the first liability verdict over the rear seat belts installed in its Escort model.

The jury, which returned the verdict Thursday after about four hours of deliberation, agreed the rear lap belts were defective and were the primary reason for the injuries in a 1985 accident that killed Chris Gaboury, 13, and left Jimmy Garrett, now 13, paralyzed from the waist down.

Lawyers argued that Ford was negligent in making the seat belts cross the wearer at the waist rather than the pelvis.

The jury also found Ford negligent for failing to install shoulder harnesses as part of the rear seat belts.

Ford plans to file post-trial motions in U.S. District Court and is considering appealing the decision, said spokesman Mike Moran.

The Garrett case was one of 26 accidents studied by the National Transportation Safety Board, which recommended that shoulder harnesses should replace rear seat lap belts.

Larry Garrett of LaPlata, Md., sued Ford in 1986 on behalf of his son, who also has lost much of his lower intestine because of the crash. The 1985 Escort crossed a highway’s center line and collided head-on with a tractor- trailer.

The two boys, who were best friends, were wearing lap belts in the back seat, and the force of the crash threw both into their lap belts, severing Chris’ abdominal artery and injuring Jimmy’s bottom three vertebrae, the suit said. Neither of two women in the front seat was seriously hurt.

Ford settled its case with the Gaboury family out of court in September.

″This is the first case in which a jury has specifically said this car was defective because it did not have a shoulder lap belt in the rear seat,″ said Gerald I. Holtz, one of Garrett’s lawyers.

Moran said the jury ignored evidence showing there was no defect in the restrant system and ″returned its verdict out of sympathy toward the plaintiff and his family.″

Ford is phasing in rear seat shoulder harnesses in many models and plans to have all outfitted with the restraints by 1992, Moran said.

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