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General Motors (GM) settles 2003 Suburban Rollover Trial in St. Louis Immediately Prior To Closing Arguments

       On June 18, 2012 four friends and family members were heading northbound on Interstate 55 outside of Jackson Mississippi in a 2003 Suburban.  They were on their way home to St. Louis after a trip to Houston and Jackson.  At about 9:30am, the driver drifted off to sleep and the Suburban entered the grassy median.  The tires furrowed into the ground and the Suburban began to rollover.  The vehicle rolled 4 ½ times before coming to rest back on the interstate.  The seat belted front seat sustained a massive head injury and was killed.  The belted rear passenger seat also sustained a fatal head injury when his head struck the pavement during the rollover.  The belted passenger in the driver’s side rear position was not killed but she suffered a severely injured left arm and hand.  The driver was belted and walked away from the crash.  No other vehicles were involved.

       Family members of the two decedents filed suit against General Motors (GM) in St. Louis Missouri in 2013. The 2003 Suburban[1] was defective and unreasonably dangerous because GM failed to install a rollover safety canopy airbag system in the vehicle.  A rollover airbag deploys during a rollover and stays inflated for over five seconds.  It covers the entire window openings for both the front and second row occupants.  The purpose of the bag is two fold: 1) keep the occupants inside the vehicle, and 2) prevent occupants’ heads from striking the ground.  GM studies proved that passengers that remain inside a vehicle are 5 -8 times more likely to survive a  rollover crash versus those that are ejected from the vehicle.  In 1998, GM planned on installing a rollover protection airbag in the 2003 Suburban.  GM scrapped the plan in May 2000 due to a “negative business case”.  We argued at trial that GM cut the safety airbag program in order to save money and cut costs even though GM chose to spend money on new satellite radios and new leather seats for the 2003 model Suburban.

       Trial began in St. Louis before Judge Timothy Wilson on October 24, 2016.  Brad Kuhlman, Chad Lucas and Matt Wengert from our office represented the plaintiffs.  Co-counsel from St. Louis, Mark Gaertner,  and Jackson Mississippi, Chris Coleman assisted in the representation and they were invaluable.  General Motors was represented by Kent Hanson and Mick Greene from Hanson Bolkcom Law Group out of Minneapolis Minnesota.  The driver was represented by Tom Magee from St.  Louis.

       The trial last 2 ½ weeks.  We presented experts in accident reconstruction, biomechanics, injury causation and airbag design/performance.  Numerous GM engineers had been deposed and were presented to the jury by videotape.  GM brought in-house engineers, accident reconstructionist, airbag sensor design engineers and biomechanics in defense of the Suburban.  GM argued that the rollover deployed airbag technology was new and that the crash was so severe that the airbags may not have even prevented the deaths and injuries.  In 2003, the Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, Lincoln Aviator, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Toyota Land Cruiser, Lexus LX 470, Volvo XC90 and various Mercedes passenger cars had rollover deployed airbag systems available.

       At the close of the evidence on November 7th, GM contacted us and settled the two wrongful death claims and the personal injury claim.  General Motors had basically refused to negotiate for a year and a half before trial.  The amounts of the settlements are confidential.

[1] The 2003 Suburban is known internally as a GMT 830.  The GMT 830 includes the 2000-2006 Suburban, GMC Yukon XL and the Cadillac Escalade.

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