Montana justices slash jury award

Chris Rizo Sep. 16, 2009, 11:59am

Mike McGrath

HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline) - The Montana Supreme Court this week slashed a multimillion dollar jury award to the parents of a toddler who was killed in a car crash.

Chad and Jessica Malcolm of Livingston, Mont., won the verdict against EvenFlo Co. Inc. for the July 2000 death of their 4-year-old son Tyler, after his car seat was ejected from a vehicle.

On Monday, the state Supreme Court vacated a $3.7 million punitive damage award but upheld a $6.7 million award in compensatory damages.

In its ruling, the state high court said the trial court erred by not allowing the car seat maker, Evenflo Co., to produce evidence that its product complied with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

The company's "On My Way" seats were last sold in 2002.

For their part, the Malcolms claimed the car seat was ejected in the rollover crash because a hook designed to hold the seat belt in place failed.

They noted that Ohio-based Evenflo knew of the defect because of five previous cases where the hook broke, either during a crash or during product testing.

The Supreme Court said that District Judge Nels Swandal erred in excluding crash test information in the case.

In the split opinion, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath said state law allows for a split process for jurors to assess punitive damages.

"In the future, trial courts should consider bifurcating liability issues from punitive damage issues," McGrath wrote.

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