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Auto Product Liability: 1985 GMC Sierra Pickup Exploding Fuel Tank

Most auto product liability attorneys will admit that defects such as exploding fuel tanks can cause deadly car accidents. In 1989, 17-year-old Shannon Moseley was driving a 1985 GMC Sierra pickup when it was struck from the side by another vehicle operated by a drunk driver. The Sierra burst into flames and Moseley burned to death in the fiery car crash.

Moseley's parents filed a product liability lawsuit against GM. During the month-long trial, Moseley's attorneys alleged that the design of "side-saddle" fuel tanks, which were mounted outside the parallel body frames of the truck, made the tanks susceptible to explode in side impact collisions. They further alleged that GM's own testing indicated that the side-saddle tanks were hazardous.

A former GM safety engineer testified that GM had intentionally concealed its knowledge of this dangerous safety defect. He indicated that GM had known for years about the defective design but refused to fix it for fear of alerting the public. In fact, videotapes of GM's own car crash tests between 1981 and 1983 showed that when the Sierra was struck on the side, its fuel tank burst open.

"This was one of hundreds of cases involving GM's controversial side-mounted fuel tanks," noted nationally recognized defective product attorney, John Bisnar. "Dual fuel tanks on the 1973-1987 GM full-size pickups were placed outside of the frame rails, which are the ladder-like structures that support the truck's cab and cargo box. This design made the trucks more vulnerable to side-impact car collisions, which resulted in fiery explosions."

"There were over eight million GM trucks manufactured with this fuel tank design," added John Bisnar. "Regrettably, millions of these dangerous trucks remain on the road, according to Department of Transportation figures. It wasn't until 1988 that GM began installing a single fuel tank between the frame rails of its full-size pickups."

GM's attorneys argued that Moseley was hit by a drunken driver who was driving at 70 mph, and that GM could not be expected to build a fuel system capable of withstanding an impact at that speed. They further alleged that young Shannon was killed almost instantly upon impact and not from the fire. GM further tried to show that the young boy did not experience pain and suffering, a prerequisite for punitive damages.

An Atlanta jury disagreed and found GM guilty of negligence and awarded $101 million in punitive damages and $4.2 million in compensatory damages to Thomas and Elaine Moseley. GM said it would appeal the decision saying they believed the verdict was incorrect.

"Most of the hundred or so lawsuits like these against GM were settled out of court," remarked John Bisnar. "The Washington-based Center for Auto Safety, a consumer group that has demanded a product recall of the 1973-1987 GM pickups, contends that GM has settled at least 120 lawsuits involving fiery car crashes of those trucks."

These Sierra trucks were also the subjects of a federal safety investigation. Consumer groups indicated that Sierra trucks with the unsafe gas tank design were involved in at least 300 deaths, a number GM has denied.

"Here again, we have an obvious safety defect with a track history of injuries and deaths that GM blatantly ignored," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized motor vehicle defects law firm of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. "We commend the action of the Moseleys, who amidst the incredible pain of losing a son, chose to take GM to court. The resulting verdict was a clear example of our justice system at work. The jury's award is America's message to GM that their failure to act was not acceptable. Hopefully, this lawsuit will help convince GM to respond effectively to known safety defects and thereby prevent needless injuries and deaths."

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 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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Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Any results set forth here were dependent on the facts of that case and the results will differ from case to case. Bisnar Chase serves all of California. In addition, we represent clients in various other states through our affiliations with local law firms. Through the local firm we will be admitted to practice law in their state, pro hac vice.

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