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Auto Product Liability: 1993 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Not Crashworthy

Most product liability lawyers will admit that an auto defect is a danger to the vehicles occupants and others on the road. In 1999, 12-year-old Jeffrey Jernigan was riding in the front passenger seat of a 1993 Oldsmobile Delta 88 driven by his older teenage brother. When they were struck head on by another vehicle, the Oldsmobile's passenger compartment collapsed in on Jeffrey, who was wearing his seatbelt. He suffered such severe head and brain injuries that a frontal lobotomy was necessary to save his life.

Jeffrey was a bright straight-A student who had earlier tested in the 99th percentile. After his lobotomy, his intelligence fell far below normal. He also lost any sense of danger-- if left unattended for even a moment--he will wander off, even into oncoming traffic.

The Jernigans sued General Motors. Their product liability attorneys claimed that GM had built a flimsy vehicle to cut costs at the expense of consumer safety. They alleged that the Delta 88's passenger compartment offered Jeffrey no protection upon impact. Both cars were traveling at between 35 and 40 mph with a total impact force of 70 to 80 mph.

GM argued that the total impact force was 100 mph and that no car on the road could have withstood such a car collision. They contended that driver error, not the car's design flaw, was the sole cause of the boy's injuries.

"It appears that obfuscation was the modus operandi in the particular case," noted nationally recognized defective product attorney John Bisnar. "At first, GM engineers claimed that their "vehicle enhancement programs" were designed to reduce noise and vibration. Another engineer referred to GM's program as a vehicle weight reduction effort. After considerable discovery efforts, and confronted with their own contradictions, GM engineers finally admitted that management redesign mandates were imposed to cut manufacturing costs at the expense of safety. This included replacing the car doors' thick, wide steel reinforcement beam with a little pipe that was 46 percent lighter than the original beam. Also damaging to GM was an internal memo stating that Ford's frame designs were "five times stronger than ours."

When jurors saw the two cars that had been involved in the car accident, they were convinced the Delta 88 was uncrashworthy. The other car--a Pontiac Grand Prix, also made by GM--was lighter than the Delta 88, but it retained every safety feature that had been removed from the Oldsmobile. Parked side-by-side, jurors could easily see that the Pontiac's passenger compartment had survived the car collision without any difficulty.

GM offered $8 million to settle, and then later suggested $10 million. After a short, one week trial, the jury found GM liable. It awarded $20 million in compensatory damages for Jeffrey ($9.7 for 'life' care; the remainder for mental anguish, pain and suffering, emotional distress, projected over a 60-year life expectancy), $2 million in compensatory damages for his father (for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and the loss of Jeffrey's companionship), and $60 million for punitive damages.

"Amidst their tragic circumstance, the Jernigans found the courage to confront a huge car maker and hold them accountable for designing an uncrashworthy automobile," said Brian Chase of the nationally recognized auto product liability law firm Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. "The Jernigans are to be commended, for their efforts may spare other parents from suffering the same fate. Our hope is that this lawsuit and the many lawsuits we have filed against GM will motivate car makers to consider the safety of the passengers in their vehicles and not just their profit margin. Isn't it ironic that the same company who put profit over people in this case, asked the people of America to bail them out with billions of dollars in loans?"

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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