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Jury Awards $5.5M in Seat Belt Suit

November 15, 2000

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) _ General Motors must pay $5.5 million to a handyman who was paralyzed in a car crash because of a defective seat belt, a jury has decided.

Harold Tucker, 69, of Salem, will receive $2.5 million for future medical care and $3 million for the pain he suffered, said his lawyer Andrew Rossetti. Tucker had asked for, but was not granted, an additional $1 million in interest.

The eight-person jury came to its decision Monday after a month-long trial and was expected to deliberate Wednesday on possible punitive damages.

Tucker was riding in the passenger seat of a 1989 Buick Regal on Nov. 28, 1995, when he leaned forward to try to retrieve a cigarette lighter, leaving a foot of slack in the shoulder belt.

When the car crashed into another vehicle, ``his body essentially moved as if it was unrestrained,″ said Rossetti.

GM lawyers had argued that Tucker was not wearing his belt, which they claimed was in proper working order. The belt, used on GM models from 1976-90, was never subject to a recall, Rossetti said.

While Tucker has regained partial use of his left leg and some movement in his arms, he will need a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Rossetti said.

GM said through a spokeswoman that it would not comment until after the trial.

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