Trial date set in lawsuit over death of Chiefs' Derrick Thomas

By KEVIN HOFFMANN
The Kansas City Star

A trial date has been set in the wrongful-death lawsuit of former Kansas City Chiefs player Derrick Thomas.

Gary C. Robb, the attorney for Thomas' family, said lawyers in the case agreed Friday to set July 7, 2003, as the trial date.

Two defendants, General Motors and Royal Chevrolet, remain in the suit, filed in October 2000 by Thomas' mother, Edith Morgan, and the mothers of Thomas' seven children.

A third defendant, Emergency Providers Inc., the company that operates Metropolitan Ambulance Services Trust, settled with the plaintiffs in March and was dismissed from the suit.

The lawsuit alleges that General Motors and the auto dealership were responsible for the football star's death because the faulty design of Thomas' 1999 Chevrolet Suburban contributed to the fatal rollover crash.

Thomas was driving on a snow-covered Interstate 435 on Jan. 23, 2000, when the accident occurred. Thomas was paralyzed. A friend, Michael Tellis, died. Neither wore a seat belt.

Thomas died about two weeks later in a Florida hospital of complications from the wreck.

"When the rollover occurred, the roof caved in eight to 10 inches and impacted onto Mr. Thomas' head," Robb said. "That's what caused the paralysis and led to his death."

Robb said General Motors was at fault for not designing the vehicle with a roof that could withstand rollovers. The plaintiffs intend to show other design flaws that make rollover crashes more common with the Suburban than other vehicles.

John Cowden, an attorney for GM, said the company has denied all allegations by the plaintiffs, including the alleged defects involving the Suburban's roof. An attorney for Royal Chevrolet could not be reached for comment Friday, but that company also has denied the allegations in court records.

GM had filed a motion challenging the ability to receive a fair trial in Jackson County, but the court denied the request.

In March, Emergency Providers reached a separate settlement and paid $100,000 to the plaintiffs, which was approved by the court. Emergency Providers is the company that provides paramedics, emergency medical technicians, dispatchers and other operating resources for MAST.

Allegations against Emergency Providers included claims that paramedics improperly stabilized Thomas, took him to a hospital that was ill-equipped to handle a spinal cord injury, and did not keep the ambulance at an appropriate temperature for a victim of spinal cord injury.

Robb said the settlement allowed the plaintiffs to streamline the lawsuit and focus on GM and its actions. Money from the settlement paid for expenses from expert witnesses used in the case, Robb said.

Fred Starrett, an attorney for Emergency Providers, declined to discuss specifics of the settlement. Starrett emphasized that Emergency Providers admitted no responsibility in Thomas' death.

The settlement came about two months before Emergency Providers learned that its general liability insurance provider was not going to renew its policy. Emergency Providers eventually secured another liability policy just a few days before the previous policy expired.

The wrongful-death lawsuit is not the only litigation stemming from Thomas' death. The administration of his estate also has not been completed.

Lawyers are scheduled this week to release an annual settlement statement detailing disbursements and other financial details of the estate.

To date, each of Thomas' seven children has received more than $60,000. That includes $1,607 paid to each in May after leftover furniture and clothing from an estate sale were liquidated.

Attorney Ron Bronstein said each child also was allowed to choose individual items from the estate.

"We tried to give them an opportunity to select something that was more personal," Bronstein said.

The final amount each child will receive depends on the resolution of several outstanding claims against the estate.


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To reach Kevin Hoffmann, call (816) 234-4415 or send e-mail to khoffmann@kcstar.com.