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Vehicle manufacturer says Rodeo design is safe

By Ed Brock

Isuzu Motors America, Inc. says its Rodeo vehicle is not unsafe and its design did not lead to the death of an Atlanta college dean who died when the vehicle rolled as he swerved to avoid a dryer on Interstate 75 in Clayton County.

In its answer to a lawsuit by the family of Michael T. Hall, the company said it "denies the subject Isuzu Rodeo was defective or unreasonably dangerous at the time it left the possession, custody or control of any Isuzu entity."

The car manufacturer is one of six defendants in the lawsuit filed by the family of Hall of Atlanta.

Hall, 43, was killed on March 8 when he swerved to avoid the dryer in I-75's northbound lanes near Forest Parkway while driving home in his 1996 Isuzu Rodeo from his sons' Little League baseball game in McDonough. The Rodeo rolled over several times in the accident but Hall's two sons, 9-year-old Michael and 6-year-old Marcus, were not badly injured.

In April Hall's widow Sabrina Hall filed the lawsuit against Jose Luna Gonzalez, the Hapeville man who bought the dryer that fell from his truck, Home Depot that is the company that sold the dryer and Isuzu Motors America, Isuzu Motors Inc. and Subaru-Isuzu Automotive Inc.

Part of the lawsuit alleges that the Rodeo that Hall was driving was unsafe and the unsafe design led in part to his death. While Isuzu America spokesman Chip Letzgus said previously that the company does not comment on pending litigation, in the answer the company denies all liability for Hall's death, answering the Halls' lawsuit on a paragraph by paragraph basis.

"They've answered the way we anticipated," the Halls' attorney Quinton Seay said.

But the facts will show that the Rodeo is a dangerous vehicle, Seay said.

In the answer Isuzu America, which represents the distributors of the Japanese-built vehicle, admits that "the dynamic forces and conditions which affect motor vehicle performance, handling and stability are complex and varied" but denied the "engineering principals" listed in the suit.

It denied "as pled" the allegations in the suit that research conducted by Isuzu Motors in the 1970s showed that a "combination of a relatively narrow track width and a relatively high center of gravity and/or poor suspension" could lead to a vehicle having "low rollover resistance." It also denied that by 1982 the company knew that "because of their design characteristics, many SUVs had very poor rollover resistance and would roll over in foreseeable driving situations" in which most cars would not roll over.

The answer pleads other defenses as well, such as assumption of risk and contributory negligence.

Gonzalez was arrested nearly a week after Hall's death after Clayton County police identified him as the man who bought the dryer from a Home Depot north of Forest Park. He has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular homicide and failure to secure a load. He has not filed an answer to the lawsuit.

Home Depot is named because the company's employees failed to make sure the dryer was secured in Gonzalez's truck and Isuzu is named because the design of the Rodeo contributed to the accident and Hall's death, Seay said.

Previously Home Depot spokesman Don Harrison said that the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Gonzalez has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. Previously Gonzales told the press that he was very sorry about the accident and he had no idea after the dryer fell out of his truck that it had caused the accident.