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Motor Vehicle Defects: 1997 Chevrolet Suburban Seatbelt Failure

Most motor vehicle defect attorneys will admit that seatbelt failure can result in fatal personal injuries. Mary Beth Arcidiacono was always concerned about safety, which is why she bought a large SUV like the 1997 Chevrolet Suburban to transport her family. In 1998, Arcidiacono was driving her four children on a Colorado interstate when she lost control of her Suburban and it rolled over four times. All her children were properly seat-belted, yet tragedy struck when her 13-year-old son John was ejected and killed. Her other son, Christopher, then 11, was also ejected and suffered a brain injury, which he's still struggling to overcome.

The family sued General Motors. Arcidiacono's product liability attorney argued that the car maker tried to cover up a potential seat-belt problem. One that places passengers in danger during rollover accidents, especially children four to eight years old and weighing 40 to 80 pounds. He produced documents that strongly suggest General Motors knew of the problem for quite some time. He also found a Colorado State Trooper's video taken at the scene of the car crash. It showed the belts were still buckled where the boys were seated.

"Most car accident reconstruction experts will repeat the widely known industry fact that children who outgrow their child seats are too small for grownup seat belts," observed nationally recognized auto product liability attorney, John Bisnar. "This is what makes the old GM seat-belt design so particularly dangerous."

Other GM documents revealed the existence of a far superior seat belt design. One that holds children and adults equally well in all seat positions, providing better safety, occupant retention and rollover protection. The difference between this improved system and the less-safe alternative was that the newer lap and shoulder belt attached to the seat and not the frame.

One GM engineer wrote that GM had both a legal and moral obligation to evaluate the feasibility and cost/benefit of seat belt designs. That memo was written eight years before Johnny Arcidiacono perished. But GM had already made a calculation in a memo that said 275 to 567 people would be saved in one year if GM switched to the better belt in all its vehicles. Arcidiacono's auto defect attorney believes it was written as early as 1989. Unfortunately, GM didn't attach belts to seats in its Suburban until 2000 -- more than 10 years later.

In the face of all these internal documents and statements by their own engineers, which extolled the virtues of belts attached to seats, GM still wouldn't budge, insisting that their belts-to-seats system was neither practical nor appropriate for all GM car and truck seating positions. Curiously, this was not mentioned as a downside in another company document, which stated that the belts-to-seats design would result in a $50 increase in the cost per car as well as extensive design work.

John Bisnar noted with regret, "GM's dug-in position means that their old poorly designed seat belts remain in millions of Suburbans built before the year 2000. These very same potentially lethal seatbelts are also still in other GM cars and trucks carrying millions of families--none of whom have any idea of the inherent risks they are exposed to."

General Motors finally agreed on a confidential financial settlement with the Arcidiacono family, but admitted no liability.

"The fact that GM knew about the inherent design limitations of their seat belts in rollover crashes is truly unconscionable," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized auto product defects law firm Bisnar | Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, LLP. "As difficult as this lawsuit might have been for the severely aggrieved Ms. Arcidiacono, we applaud her courage in taking on General Motors. Our hope is that these product defect lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against General Motors will convince them to improve seat belts and restrain systems, making them safer for consumers."

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as the result of a defective auto part or vehicle, contact the experienced California auto products liability attorneys at Bisnar | Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, LLP for a free consultation. We will use our extensive knowledge and resources to achieve the best possible results for you and your family.


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