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Thomas family sought $73M in suit

8/17/2004 - Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The family of former Kansas City Chiefs
star Derrick Thomas is not entitled to any money from General
Motors Corp. for the January 2000 crash that killed the nine-time
Pro Bowl linebacker, a jury ruled Tuesday.

Thomas' mother, Edith Morgan, his seven children and their five
mothers sued GM, seeking at least $73 million. They claimed Thomas
was fatally injured when the roof of his Chevrolet Suburban caved
in during the crash.

But the automaker's attorneys said during the monthlong trial
that Thomas was driving too fast for the snowy conditions, and was
ejected from the sport utility vehicle because he was not wearing
his seat belt.

Thomas was paralyzed from the neck down. He died from
complications 16 days later.

His best friend, Michael Tellis, who also was not wearing a seat
belt, died at the scene. A third person in the vehicle -- who was
wearing a seat belt -- walked away unharmed.

Michael Piuze, the attorney for Thomas' relatives, said he
wasn't surprised by the decision.

"The problem with this case is that in the last four years
since he got hurt, there has been an awful lot of publicity that
Derrick Thomas was at fault, that Derrick Thomas was not wearing a
seat belt," Piuze said.

Morgan, who started the "Buckle Up for Derrick" campaign soon
after her son's death to urge Kansas City motorists to wear seat
belts, said she was disappointed in the decision.

"We're going to be strong and fight the good fight of faith,"
she said. "It has been very, very tough to relive these incidents
all over again. Even if they would have awarded something, it
couldn't have taken the place of my son."

She said she would take her campaign to strengthen automobile
roofs to other NFL cities where she frequently has spoken about the
need to wear seat belts.

"I will tell NFL mothers I don't want any other mothers to go
through what I've gone through," Morgan said.

General Motors attorney John Hickey said the ruling sent a
message that drivers should wear seat belts and drive safely.

"All we wanted to do is defend our car," Hickey said. "I feel
bad for the Thomases. Mr. Thomas, unfortunately, was driving too
fast."

Two of the 12 jurors voted to award damages, including one who
is a Chiefs season-ticket holder.