Appeals court reversal clears way for couple to collect $11 million verdict against Mitsubishi

In an unusual move, an appeals court this week reversed its own decision, paving the way for a Maine couple to collect $11 million from Mitsubishi Motors for the 2004 death of their son.

Attorney Julie Littky-Rubin said the parents of 25-year-old Scott Laliberte were ecstatic about the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s change of heart.

“It’s been a long road for them,” she said. When a Palm Beach County jury in 2008 found that a defective seat belt in the 2000 Montero Sport was responsible for Laliberte’s death in a single-car rollover accident in Brevard County, his parents finally had some closure, she said.

When the appeals court in June threw out the verdict, saying Circuit Judge Elizabeth Maass had abused her discretion in barring the automaker from presenting some evidence, Donna and Peter Laliberte were crushed, she said.

After looking closer at Maass’ decision, appeals court judges Melanie May, Dorian Damoorgian and Cory Ciklin said she was well within her discretionary powers to turn down Mitsubishi’s request to show jurors a demonstrative exhibit aimed at persuading them that the force of the crash, not the seat belt, caused Laliberte’s death. Ciklin has consistently upheld Maass’ decision.

“It was more prejudicial than probative,” Littky-Rubin said Maass’ rejection of the exhibit.

Attorneys representing the auto giant weren’t immediately available for comment. They could ask the appeals court to again rehear the case or seek a review by the Florida Supreme Court. But, Littky-Rubin said she is doubtful either tacks would be successful.