Thursday, July 23, 2009
Verdict against GM upheld on appeal
$13,004,051.00 Recovered on behalf of the survivors of a family killed in a post-collision fuel fed fire. After a nearly 10-year legal battle with General Motors, Atlee, Hall & Brookhart has helped recover nearly $13 million from General Motors for the surviving family members whose loved ones were killed in a fiery collision as a result of defects in the fuel system of their 1995 Chevrolet Lumina.The case involved a 1995 Chevrolet Lumina that was impacted from the rear by a tractor-trailer. Immediately after impact the vehicle was engulfed in flames killing a husband, wife and their child. With the assistance of numerous automotive experts and extensive examination, it was learned that the clamp used to connect the fuel filler hose to the fuel pipe was missing from the Lumina.The litigation included the filing of over 75 discovery and pre-trial motions, 9 opinions and 99 orders from the Court before trial, more than 30 pretrial oral arguments, 4 interlocutory appeals from discovery orders taken to the Supreme Court, a 5-week trial, and post-trial appeals by GM to the Commonwealth Court and the Supreme Court.After exhaustive discovery, it was learned that nearly a year before the manufacture of our client’s Lumina GM identified a problem with these clamps either being omitted or not tightened properly. It was learned that GM engineers ordered that changes be made in the assembly process to correct this problem; however, these changes were not made at the Oshwa, Ontario Assembly Plant where our client’s Lumina was manufactured. Over the years of pursuing this litigation, 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 in Canada, Michigan, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey and Texas. After filing motions to compel, 21 orders were entered by the Court compelling GM to produce materials in discovery. After reviewing tens of thousands of documents and deposing GM's engineers, it was learned that in 1972, a GM engineer advised GM's management that GM should be designing their cars so that if people survive the crash, they should not be killed in a post-collision, fuel-fed fire. GM management refused to adopt this standard and the engineers who made the proposal testified they were disappointed at GM's reaction.During this same time frame, it was also learned that a young GM engineer performed an analysis concerning what it would cost GM to defend lawsuits concerning post-collision, fuel-fed fires. GM determined that it would cost less to defend the lawsuits than it would be to make changes to correct the design of its automobiles. After several interlocutory appeals to the Supreme Court by GM to keep these documents from the Jury, Plaintiffs prevailed and showed these documents to the jury at trial.Following a 5-week trial which included extensive expert testimony, presentation of 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. The largest personal injury jury verdict in Lancaster County. GM immediately filed post-trial motions and Plaintiff filed a motion for delay damages which was granted in the amount of $2,429,165.75.Following extensive briefing and arguments on the post-trial motions, the Honorable Lawrence F. Stengel authored an Opinion in excess of 102 pages denying GM's motion for a new trial. GM immediately appealed to the Commonwealth Court and later to the Supreme Court but again, Plaintiffs prevailed and GM's appeals were denied. Ultimately, GM was required to pay $13,004,051.00 in verdict and delayed damages.