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ENGINEER DISPUTES EXPERT ON SEAT BELTS

The expert witness for a woman suing General Motors over an alleged faulty seat belt examined the wrong belt in determining that the buckle unlatched in a rollover, an engineer testified.

The driver of the vehicle also told police he and Lynn Misener were not wearing seat belts when Misener was ejected from the Chevrolet Blazer and suffered brain damage, according to the automaker's own experts."The phenomenon that is being alleged in this crash just could not occur," said GM engineer Edward McKenna, a former chairman of a Society of Automotive Engineering seat-belt committee.

McKenna's testimony came last week as GM got its chance to counter a three-week barrage of videotapes, documents and testimony telling a federal jury that GM seat belts ruined Misener's life.

The jury in U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene's court is expected to begin deliberations by midweek.

The multimillion dollar product-liability suit brought by Misener also cites flaws in the windshield that blew out and the roof that flew off during the July 5, 1991, rollover near Vernal.

Her attorneys contend the University of Colorado accounting and archaeology student was buckled in, but her seat belt unlatched during the triple rollover, causing her ejection and brain injuries.

For the rest of her life, Misener must live in a $212-a-day Colorado facility for patients with permanent brain damage. Her economic expert witness testified earlier she will require at least $8.5 million to finance such care.

Neither Misener nor the driver, Dan Manson, who also sustained brain injuries, can recall many details of the accident along U.S. 40.

In offering Misener's side of the case for three weeks, her lawyers insisted that GM has had a long, troubled history with seat belts - evidenced by some 70 consumer complaints, including 25 lawsuits, over belts unlatching during accidents.

Information about the resolutions of those suits has been barred.

Instead, GM has focused on its clean bill of health from federal safety investigators, its years of crash testing and its experts' analysis of the Misener accident.

GM expert Chuck Warner testified that dents on the Blazer roof and quarter-panel were too far from Misener's seat belt to blame those impacts on the purported unlatching.

Moreover, McKenna said that Misener's own engineer witnesses made a crucial error in an examination of the Blazer's seat belts to buttress their contention she was restrained.

McKenna said Misener's witnesses examined the shoulder belt - which, he said, is rendered ineffective during a rollover. They failed to closely analyze the lap belt, which is more important in restraining a motorist during a rollover, he stated.

"I don't see anything I'd associate with a rollover accident on this lap belt," McKenna told the jury.