Family of refugee killed on I-75 gets $16.5M verdict
by The Associated Press
November 08, 2013 12:23 AM | 2133 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DECATUR — A jury has awarded $16.5 million to the family of a Bhutanese refugee killed in a van wreck on Interstate 75 just north of Macon.

The Daily Report writes the trial over the death of 50-year-old Kharka Chhetri is the first of 12 cases stemming from the accident involving the van that was carrying 14 people to work at a chicken plant. Another passenger died and a dozen others were injured.

Plaintiff’s lawyers say a tire blowout caused the van to strike the median guardrail and flip. Chhetri’s family in 2011 sued Michelin North America, which owns the company that made the tire, and the driver of the van, Bhim Bhista.

Lawyers for Chhetri’s family said a defective design caused the van’s rear tire to lose its treat and that Michelin knew about the design defect but failed to do anything.

All of the people in the van, including the driver, were from the same community of immigrants who lived in Clarkston after immigrating from Bhutan.

Craig Hodges, a spokesman for Michelin, told the Daily Report the company is considering an appeal.

“Michelin is disappointed by the outcome and respectfully disagrees with the verdict,” Hodges said in a statement. “The tire had been in use for over 50,000 miles and had an improper repair of a half-inch cut. Michelin always strives for excellence in product quality and safety; this tire is no different.”

Lawyers for Chhetri’s family said Bhista, the driver, was included in the suit because tire manufacturers often blame the driver in cases like this.

The DeKalb County jury found that Michelin North America was 80 percent to blame and that the driver was 20 percent at fault.

Chhetri’s widow was awarded $5 million for the wrongful death of her husband, and his estate was awarded $20,000 for funeral expenses and pain and suffering.

The jury also said Michelin North America should pay $11.5 million in punitive damages.

Scott Patterson, a lawyer representing Bhista, had filed a cross complaint against the other defendants. That was resolved confidentially before the trial. The consent judgment means Bhista won’t be personally responsible for paying his $1 million share of the jury award, Patterson told the Daily Report.

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