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Church Loses $10M Verdict Over Van’s Blown Tire

January 19, 1999

CASE TYPE: personal injury

CASE: Fuller v Greater Bethany Community Church. BC 1O9 995 [Super. Ct. Los Angeles]

PLAINTIFFS ATTORNEYS: Brian J. Panish of Santa Monica, Calif’s Greene, Broillet, Taylor, Wheeler & Panish, for Shirlee Fuller: and H. Neil Margolin, of North Hollywood Calif’s Lipton & Margolin, for Josephine and Geoffrey Hunte.

DEFENSE ATTORNEYS: Jack J. Tannenbaum, of Encino, Calif’s Staitman, Snyder, Tannenbaum & Dorenfeld, for Greater Bethany Community Church: Bennett Combs, of Ireine, Calif., for Josephine and Geoffrey Hunte: and R. Wesley Bavers, of Anaheim, Calif’s Koester & Gelman, for Fairmont Tire & Rubber Co.

JURY VERDICT: $10.1 million for Ms. Fuller; $199.500 for the Huntes; defense verdict for Fairmont

On Aug, 4, 1993, Shirlee Fuller was a passenger in a church van driven by Geoffrey Hunte when its left rear tire blew out near Albuquerque, N.M., and Mr. Hunte lost control of the van, said plaintiffs’ attorney Brian J. Panish. Ms. Fuller was ejected from the vehicle when it rolled over. She sustained a crushed pelvis and orthopedic injuries when the top of the van landed on her, said Mr. Panish. Mr. Hunte and another passenger – his wife, Josephine – received minor injuries.

Ms. Fuller sued the Greater Bethany Community Church of Los Angeles, charging the church with negligence. Before the accident, said Mr. Panish, the church’s mechanic had recommended that all four tires be replaced. Only three were replaced; the fourth blew out, causing the accident he said. Ms. Fuller also sued Mr. Hunte, charging he had failed to operate the van in a safe manner. The Huntes sued the church as well. The plaintiffs and the church also sued the Fairmont Tire & Rubber Co., which had replaced the other three tires.

The church denied any negligence, contending that Fairmont personnel had advised that replacing the fourth tire was unnecessary.

A Los Angeles jury Aug. 25 cleared Fairmont but found the church 97 percent and Mr. Hunte 3 percent responsible for the accident, awarding Ms. Fuller $10.1 million and the Huntes $199,500. The Church is preparing post-trial motions to set aside the verdict.

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