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Motor Vehicle Defects Found In 1996 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer Weak Roof Danger

Most motor defect attorneys will admit that the weak car roof on 1996 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer is a danger to passengers. In 1997, Penny Shipler, a waitress and single mother, accepted a ride home from work from a friend, Kenneth Long. During the drive on a rural Nebraska highway, Long lost control of his 1996 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer and it rolled several times. Shipler's spine was crushed when the SUV's roof collapsed around her in the car accident.

Paralyzed from the neck down, Shipler and her 10-year-old son were forced to live on about $800 a month in Social Security payments, disability checks and food stamps. Shipler's auto product liability attorney estimated that her medical care and assistance would cost $10 million, saying she was in desperate need of money.

Shipler filed a defective products liability lawsuit against GM, her auto defect attorney alleging that the strength of the Blazer's roof was inadequate to protect Shipler. He specifically pointed to the fact that the Blazer's roof had crushed down an estimated eight inches on the passenger side where Shipler was sitting.

Vehicle roof strength continues to be one of the major bones of contention in the automotive safety. According to federal statistics, an estimated 7,000 people are killed or severely injured annually in roof-crush rollovers. The federal standard for vehicle-roof strength originated in 1971, when there were far more passenger cars than rollover-prone light trucks and SUVs.

GM and other automakers have long insisted that crushed roofs don't cause personal injuries. But mounting pressure from auto-safety groups prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to propose new roof-strength standards. The new standard extended roof-strength requirements from vehicles weighing 6,000 pounds to those weighing up to 10,000 pounds. The new rule would also stipulate that SUV vehicle roofs withstand greater pressure in federal testing. In many cases, increasing an SUV's roof strength amounted to little more than adding a stronger pillar, which cost the automaker just a few dollars extra per vehicle.

GM sought to introduce evidence that Long and Shipler had been drinking alcohol before the car accident. And that Shipler may have improperly used her seat belt. But the court barred such evidence, insisting that the case fell under the rules of "strict liability" regarding the ability of the S-10 Blazer to protect its occupants.

The jury sided with Shipler, blaming GM's Blazer for a roof design that inadequately protected its occupants in a rollover accident. They awarded her $18.6 million.

GM appealed, but the Nebraska Supreme Court unanimously upheld the $18.6 million jury award--one of the largest court judgments linking vehicle roof-strength to severe personal injuries in rollover crashes. The court's 47-page opinion rejected all of GM's claims against the trial court--including claims that the decision was emotionally driven and that it was too excessive.

"Once again, a giant automaker tried to avoid taking responsibility for designing an SUV that was clearly not crashworthy," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized auto defects law firm of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. "Ms. Shipler did the right thing in taking GM to court, showing that our justice system does work to protect those who have been unjustly injured. The jury's award is America's message to GM that their failure to act was not acceptable. Hopefully, this motor vehicle defects lawsuit will help convince GM to respond promptly and effectively to known safety defects to prevent the kind of life-altering injuries sustained by Ms. Shipler."

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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