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ARTICLE ID 28980

- AUTOMOTIVE PRODUCTS LIABILITY - ________ CHEVROLET S-10 BLAZER ALLEGEDLY DEFECTIVELY DESIGNED IN MULTIPLE RESPECTS - FAMILY OF FOUR PERISH IN FATAL CRASH/CAR FIRE - BLAZER STRUCK HEAD-ON BY ONCOMING VEHICLE AT HIGHWAY SPEED - PLAINTIFF CLAIMS THE CAR FIRE WHICH ENGULFED THE BLAZER IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE HIGH-IMPACT COLLISION WAS DIRECTLY CAUSED BY A DEFECTIVE FUEL SYSTEM AND PROP SHAFT - INADEQUATE SAFEGUARDING.

Cook County, Illinois

This action arose out of a fiery, high-impact, two-vehicle highway accident involving a ________ Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, a sport utility vehicle in which the decedents (a family of four) were riding. The subject wrongful-death actions were combined for the purposes of this lawsuit and brought against General Motors (GM), alleging that the subject SUV contained numerous design defects, particularly involving the vehicle’s fuel system. The plaintiff’s allegations included failure to provide adequate safeguarding in the form of an anti-siphoning device, which the plaintiff contended was available for installation at the time of this vehicle’s manufacture. The defense denied liability and alleged that the sole cause of the car fire and the deaths of the four occupants was the high impact nature of the collision and the near head-on angle at which the two vehicles collided. The defendant contended that the vehicles impacted at a combined speed of approximately ________ miles per hour and the angle of impact was such that the flammable liquids under the hoods were released and ignited. The plaintiffs sought wrongful-death damages for the loss of the mother and father, the front seat occupants, and for the loss of their two children, seated in the back of the vehicle at the time. The evidence appeared to indicate that the father might have passed away upon impact, while the mother and two children remained alive and trapped as the vehicle was fully engulfed in flames.

The subject accident occurred on July 4, ________, in Idaho, where the decedents were vacationing. The decedents father and mother, along with their daughters, ages 14 and 12, were traveling on a major highway at an estimated speed of 60 to 65 miles per hour. The ________ Chevrolet Blazer was a rental vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident was approaching the plaintiff’s vehicle on the opposite side of the roadway. The other driver, who was later determined to be under the influence of alcohol, failed to maintain his lane of travel, lost control of his vehicle, and crossed the median before slamming head-on into the decedents’ Blazer. The SUV Blazer burst into flames following the impact and before the other occupants could escape the wreckage. There was some question as to whether the decedent father, who was driving, was killed upon impact. Eyewitnesses established that the mother and two daughters were alive and attempting to get out of the vehicle when it was consumed by a fiery blaze. The decedents all suffered fatal injuries in the crash.

The plaintiff presented expert testimony that the rented Chevrolet Blazer was defectively designed in several important respects. The plaintiff’s design expert opined that the Blazer’s fuel system was defectively designed in that it lacked adequate safeguarding, including an anti-siphoning device to divert fuel away from the system in the event of a break in the fuel line due to an accident or otherwise.

The plaintiff’s expert testified that this safeguard device was available to GM at the time of the subject vehicle’s manufacture, and that GM used the anti- siphoning device on the fuel systems of certain other GM vehicles. The plaintiff additionally alleged that the vehicle’s fuel system was defective in that there lacked a protective shield around the fuel tank and fuel lines, to further safeguard occupants in the event of an accident.

The plaintiff’s cause and origin expert opined that the fire started when the prop shaft either broke, or moved out of its place upon impact, and penetrated the fuel tank or fuel line, permitting highly flammable gasoline to be siphoned toward the engine area, where it ignited, causing the vehicle to burst into flames.

The defendant’s cause and origin expert disputed the conclusions offered by the plaintiff’s expert as to the car fire’s point-of- origin and maintained that his examination of the vehicle, burn patterns, etc., indicated that the fire originated under the hood, in the engine compartment.

The defense maintained, therefore, that none of the safeguards advocated as necessary by the plaintiff’s experts would have prevented the fatal fire that consumed the Blazer. The defendant’s experts pointed to the severe nature of the impact, which was estimated to be a combined impact speed of approximately ________ to ________ miles per hour, in addition to eyewitness testimony, to buttress the expert’s testimony as to where the fire originated in the vehicle.

The jury found for the defendant.

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