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Jurors Award $9.7 Million in Battery Blast

Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court jury has awarded a Redding couple $9.7 million after determining that a battery manufacturer knowingly distributed defective batteries, one of which exploded when the husband tried to help a couple jump-start their car.

The jury awarded general damages of $3.2 million on Thursday and punitive damages of $6.5 million on Friday to Gary and Mona Jones after finding that Johnson Controls Inc., manufacturer of the Die-Hard battery, and Sears Roebuck & Co. Inc., its distributor, failed to warn customers of the potential hazards of the battery.

The battery exploded in the 1986 incident when the corrosion from sulfuric acid was cleaned from the side terminal, allowing hydrogen gas to leak from the seal of the terminal. When the electrical connection was made, it caused the battery to blow up, said Harvey R. Levine, attorney for the couple.

Gary Jones lost an eye and suffered brain damage that now causes him to lapse into occasional seizures.

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Defense attorney David C. Haber said that the amount is “higher than expected” and “pretty unusual” for a battery explosion case. He said there are a thousand lawsuits pending on battery explosions involving the company that manufactures the Die-Hard. Haber said the defendants will appeal the decision.

Levine said: “This jury wanted to send a message. It’s not the money, but the impact that it will have to prevent these grievous injuries from occurring.”

During the trial, Levine produced an internal report by Johnson Controls that concluded that some of the batteries had manufacturing errors, including the type that led to the explosion.

But Haber maintained that the battery is manufactured in proper working order.

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