A Baldwin County Circuit Court jury returned a $9 million verdict Friday holding General Motors liable for injuries the left a 17-year-old paralyzed from the waist down following a 1987 accident.
Officials in the case said the verdict is the largest award for compensation in a personal injury case of which they were aware ever have been given in a Baldwin in a Baldwin County Circuit Court case.
Steven Hodges’ spine was injured when the truck in which he was riding rolled over and the roof collapsed.
Attorneys for Hodges, now 22, said the verdict shows juries will not accept claims by GM that truck roof designs are safe and do not need to be strengthened.
“Our position was that the roof lacked adequate crashworthiness,” attorney Robert Cunningham said. “The problem is that most trucks are still like this. Their position is that there is no relation between the roof crushing and the injury. They've been fighting the government for years on this.”
A defense attorney declined comment after the verdict was announced.
On June 14, 1987, Hodges was riding in a 1984 Chevrolet pickup with Elbert Carroll and Tommy McDonald in Orange Beach. The three men were working for the Alabama Parks System, the agency which owned the truck, according to briefs filed by attorneys for both Hodges and GM.
The truck ran into standing water at the intersection of Alabama 182 and Baldwin County Road 2. The pickup began hydroplaning and rolled over 1.5 times in the sand before coming to rest on its roof.
Carroll, the driver, and McDonald, who was on the right side of the truck cab, were both thrown out of the vehicle by the crash. However, Hodges, who was in the center of the seat, was still in the truck when the roof collapsed on him, Cunningham said.
“He’s a paraplegic,” Cunningham said. “He’s lost the use of his legs and is going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.”
No injuries to the other two men who survived the wreck, were mentioned in the lawsuit.
Another of Hodges’ attorneys, Buddy Brown, said during the trial’s three weeks of testimony there were more than 500 pieces of evidence presented to the jury.
According to statements made in a brief filed by attorneys for GM, the defense claimed Hodges’ injury was not due to a failure of the roof, but to the victim’s back hitting the roof during the accident.
The brief also said there was no practical design for a truck available at the time that would have prevented the injury.