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Motor Vehicle Defects: 1995 Chevrolet Lumina Lethal Fuel System Defect

Motor vehicle defect attorneys will usually admit that lethal fuel system defects can result in serious or fatal personal injuries. In 1995, Douglas and Connie Harsh along with their infant son were traveling in a 1995 Chevrolet Lumina on a road in Pennsylvania. When their Lumina was impacted from the rear by a tractor-trailer moving at about 40 mph, the car was engulfed in flames, killing husband, wife and child.

The estates of three Harsh family members filed a product liability law suit against GM, alleging that the fiery tragedy that killed their loved ones was the result of defects in the Lumina's fuel system. Plaintiffs also sought damages for pain and suffering, alleging that Douglas, Connie and their son survived the immediate impact but died in the car from burns and smoke inhalation. Finally, Plaintiffs sued the tractor-truck driver and his company.

Plaintiffs consulted with over 10 experts in the field of automotive design, biomechanics, and forensic pathology. More than 100 depositions were taken in the case. A number of automotive experts helped establish that a clamp used to connect the fuel filler hose to the fuel pipe was missing from the Lumina.

"A year before this Lumina was manufactured, GM knew that these clamps had been omitted or not tightened properly," noted nationally recognized auto product liability attorney, John Bisnar. "GM engineers had ordered that this problem be corrected, but surprisingly, the corrections were not implemented at the Oshwa, Ontario Assembly Plant where the Harsh's Lumina was manufactured."

A review of thousands of documents and GM-engineer depositions revealed that in 1972, a GM engineer advised management that GM should design cars that allow occupants to survive a car crash and not be killed in post-collision, fuel-fed fires. GM management refused to adopt this standard.

Plaintiffs also learned that a GM analysis determined that it would cost less to defend lawsuits involving post-collision, fuel-fed fires than it would be to make changes to correct the design of its automobiles. GM fought to keep these documents from the Jury, but Plaintiffs prevailed and were allowed to present the documents.

"Once again, the nefarious cost-benefit ratio was applied in the design and manufacture of cars," observed John Bisnar. "In this case, the problem was compounded by GM's negligence in failing to implement a change to an assembly procedure in its Ontario Assembly Plant."

Following a five-week trial, which included expert testimony, computer animations and a model Lumina in the courtroom, a Lancaster County jury found the Lumina to be defective and returned a verdict in the amount of $8.2 million. GM was found liable for 60 percent of the $8.2 million award, plus the same proportion of a $2.4 million penalty. The court also upheld liability for the rest of the award against the tractor-truck driver who was sentenced to prison for vehicular manslaughter.

GM immediately appealed to the Commonwealth Court and later to the Supreme Court, but again, Plaintiffs prevailed and GM's appeals were denied.

"Inattention to a seemingly innocuous part--a fuel filler hose clamp--caused this tragedy to unfold the way it did," remarked Brian Chase of the nationally recognized auto defects law firm of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. "Amidst their grief, the Plaintiff's took GM to court to right a wrong. This is an 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 product defect lawsuit will help convince GM to respond effectively to known safety defects in order to prevent further 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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