CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) â€” General Motors Corp. on Wednesday agreed to pay $5.5 million to a handyman paralyzed in a car crash to settle a lawsuit claiming that a seat belt model once used on millions of vehicles was defective.
The deal came two days after a Camden County jury awarded the same sum in compensatory damages to the injured man, Harold Tucker, and just as it was to consider arguments on how much to award in punitive damages.
Under the settlement, Tucker, of Salem, will not pursue punitive damages, said his lawyer, Andrew J. Rossetti.
Rossetti said they would have prevailed, but that appeals would have taken years, and that Tucker, 69, said he could use the money now.
GM spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato said the Detroit company maintains that the seat belt system was not defective and that Tucker was not wearing his belt when injured Nov. 28, 1995.
Other juries ``have vindicated GM's use of the comfort feature (belt system) and its performance,'' Cusinato said.
The belt was used on GM models from 1976-90, about 7 million vehicles, and was never subject to a recall, Rossetti said.
Cusinato could not immediately say which models had comfort feature belts, but said ``all American manufacturers used the device in most of their vehicles.'' The device was not used in vehicles for the European market, she said.
``The seat belt design with the comfort feature was incorporated into GM vehicles to encourage customers to wear their seat belts at a time when seat belt use was not widespread,'' Cusinato said.
Both Tucker and the man driving the vehicle involved in the accident had been drinking and were over the legal limit for intoxication for drivers, both sides said.
GM said that state Superior Court Judge Raymond F. Drozdowski did not allow the jury to consider the fault of the drunk driver in causing the crash, or of Tucker for riding with him.