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UTAH TOP COURT REJECTS SUIT AGAINST SAAB, SAYS CASE WAS FILED TOO LATE

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The Utah Supreme Court has rejected a physician's wrongful death suit against Swedish automaker Saab-Scandia AB that claimed a defective Saab burst into flames and caused his wife's death.

In their unanimous ruling, the justices determined the husband waited too long after the death of his wife, filing suit nearly 18 months after Utah's statute of limitations had expired.Larry Raithaus, Alta, said his 3-year-old Saab sedan caught fire in July 1979, causing his wife's death. But Raithaus's suit, alleging defects in the car caused the death, was not filed until November 1982.

Saab countersued, claiming the plaintiff's "own negligence was responsible for the accident" and that the damage suit was barred by Utah's two-year statute of limitations.

A state court judge granted the automaker's motion for summary judgment, dismissing the suit. The doctor appealed, claiming the Utah Product Liability Act gave him six years, until February 1983, to file suit.

But the justices said they had declared the Product Liability Act unconstitutional in 1985. The act had given plaintiffs a six-year "statute of repose," or six-year period starting at the time of purchase, to claim a product was defective or unsafe.

"We now expressly hold that the six-year time period in the act was a statute of repose, reaffirming our view that statutes of repose and statutes of limitations are distinct entities," said Justice Christine Durham.

"Because the six-year time period in the act could not therefore function as a statute of limitations, Raithaus's claim is governed by the two-year period in the wrongful death statute," Durham said.