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Gwinnett Jury Awards $4.6 Million in Jeep Death Where Seatbelt Didn't Work

Driver of Jeep shares in the liability but is relieved of guilt for the accident that killed her mother, lawyers say

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Co-plaintiff's counsel Melody Glouton said her client's wife was dedicated to wearing seat belts, but the belt in the Jeep failed to keep her in the vehicle when it rolled.
Co-plaintiff's counsel Melody Glouton said her client's wife was dedicated to wearing seat belts, but the belt in the Jeep failed to keep her in the vehicle when it rolled.

A Gwinnett County jury awarded $4.6 million to the husband of a woman killed when she was ejected from a Jeep during a rollover wreck. The company that manufactured the seat belt the victim was wearing must pay $3.7 million of the judgment and the jury apportioned $900,000 of the verdict to the victim's daughter, who was driving at the time of the accident.

Lead plaintiff's attorney Christopher Glover said the case was extremely trying for the daughter, who was racked by feelings of guilt for the death of her mother, Penney Bruner.

"One of the most gratifying things was that the daughter had blamed herself for this crash, and she felt like this verdict vindicated her," said Glover, a partner with Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Birmingham.

Even though the jury assigned the young woman 20 percent of the liability, he said, the verdict reflected their view that, "but for the seat belt's failing, her mom would have been alive. She called me on the way home after the trial crying, and thanked me for helping heal those wounds."

The attorney for the driver, Amanda Bruner, who was included as a defendant in order to make a claim on her insurance coverage, said he could not discuss the case in detail, as no decision has been made as to whether he will be filing an appeal.

But Craig Avery of Athens' Cowsert & Avery agreed that his client had been granted a measure of relief by the trial, whose tragic circumstances made it "one of the worst I've handled."

Michael Cooney, the lead attorney for co-defendant Key Safety Systems Inc., said his client "respects but is disappointed in the jury's verdict in this matter."

"The seat belt components supplied by KSS to DaimlerChrysler for incorporation into the 2003 Jeep Wrangler were state of the art, met and exceeded all applicable DaimlerChrysler specifications and federal government safety standards, and had an exemplary safety record," said Cooney via email.

"Indeed," he continued, "there was no evidence presented to the jury of any prior claim of defect in or injury resulting the model seat belts components at issue in the lawsuit, despite their widespread use in other vehicles over many years.

"Mrs. Bruner's death was the unfortunate result of an extremely severe crash in which the Wrangler rolled over more than five times, not any defect in her seat belt components," said Cooney, a partner in Dykema Gossett's Bloomfield Hills, Mich., office.

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