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A Michigan auto dealership that failed to complete the title transfer on a car involved in a fatal accident has been hit with a $12 million jury verdict. “The dealership did nothing wrong other than not get a signature on a title transfer,” asserted defense attorney Leonard Schwartz of Sommers, Schwartz, Silvers and Schwartz of Southfield, Mich., who represented the car dealership. According to court documents, Mohammad Bazzi, then 20, purchased a 1996 Camaro Z-28 convertible from Les Stanford Oldsmobile in Troy, Mich., in July 1999. Two days later Bazzi, driving at an estimated 100 mph on Interstate 75 at 2:25 a.m., smashed the car into the rear of a slower moving semi-truck. The impact nearly decapitated his passenger, Ronny Hashem, 18. Bazzi suffered only minor injuries. Testimony at trial revealed that Bazzi was intoxicated at the time of the accident. Earlier in the evening he’d vandalized a men’s room at a nightclub and gotten into an altercation with a gas station attendant, Schwartz said. According to court documents, the fatal collision occurred while Bazzi was allegedly racing on the freeway with his cousin, Hassan Bazzi. Mohammad Bazzi was later convicted of driving under the influence and negligent homicide. He is currently in prison for up to 15 years and faces deportation when his sentence is complete. Al Hashem, the father of the man killed in the collision, sued Mohammad Bazzi and Hassan Bazzi and the owners of the cars they were driving. According to Schwartz, when Mohammad Bazzi initially put a deposit on the car, he qualified for a loan and all loan and transfer documents were drawn up. Before the transaction was completed, the dealership’s credit manager determined Mohammad Bazzi could get a better loan if the manager could speak with the manager of the financing company. An agreement was made for Bazzi to return two days later to complete the transaction with the more favorable loan. But a salesman, believing the deal was complete, gave Bazzi the keys to the car. THREE-WEEK TRIAL The three-week trial concluded with the jury deliberating for less than two hours before finding the young Hashem 30 percent liable for his own death and Mohammad Bazzi 70 percent liable. Schwartz argued that under Michigan’s tort reform statute the dealership should have been held no more than 70 percent liable, with no liability beyond simple negligence on the part of Mohammad Bazzi. “I wanted [jury] instruction on gross negligence, on willful and wanton behavior, on intentional infliction of harm but none was given,” Schwartz said. “We should have been totally out of the case or, under proper instruction to the jury, had our liability limited to his ordinary negligence.” Plaintiff’s counsel Walid J. Fakhoury of Koory & Fakhoury of Royal Oak, Mich., said the tort reform statute was irrelevant because the applicable law is Michigan’s 70-year-old Owner Liability Statute, which holds the owner of a car liable whenever the car is being operated consensually. “They owned the vehicle and Mohammad Bazzi was driving it with their consent, so they were responsible for all his actions,” Fakhoury said. Fakhoury argued that the tort reform law was, in any case, no barrier to the judgment. The one instance in which it allows full joint and several liability is when the defendant driver is convicted of drunken driving, he said. Schwartz said he is studying numerous avenues of appeal, including the application of joint and several liability, jury instruction, allegedly inappropriate testimony and a ruling dropping from the case a store that sold alcohol to Mohammad Bazzi despite the fact he was underage. Both attorneys agreed the jury was angered by Mohammad Bazzi, who appeared for testimony in prison clothes and, according to Schwartz, showed no remorse. “The jury was furious at Bazzi but the only way they could get at him was through my client,” Schwartz claimed. Hashem v. Bazzi , No. 00-011717-NI (Wayne Co., Mich., Cir. Ct.).

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