Our firm settled a wrongful death case last month arising out of an automobile accident that occurred in Perry County, Alabama, on June 26, 2005. Our client’s father, Nathaniel Gary, was driving a 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass when his car was struck by a 2004 Ford F150 in what was basically an offset frontal collision. Mr. Gary died as a result of injuries he sustained in the accident. The driver of the Ford F150 was intoxicated and has been charged with vehicular homicide. Mr. Gary was properly wearing his seatbelt and did absolutely nothing to contribute to the accident. Our accident reconstruction expert placed the speed of the Gary vehicle at 6.7 mph and the speed of the Ford F150 at 39.2 mph. The delta V for the Gary vehicle was 28.2 mph. This was confirmed by the SDM download of the Gary vehicle which showed a change in velocity of 27.9 mph. Our claim was that the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, which was a GM “W” car, was not crashworthy. There were some extremely poor design choices made by General Motors concerning the vehicle involved in our case.

The GM “W” car was part of a cost reduction program known at General Motors as “Project 1800.” Under this cost reduction program, GM reduced the overall production cost of the W car by $1800 per vehicle. A great deal of the cost reduction was achieved by removing and/or thinning metal in the impact management system of the vehicle, which created safety problems. Some of GM’s greatest cost reduction success was with the W car. Evidence of how it affected safety was the poor performance of the Gary vehicle in this collision. Safety was compromised by GM in order to increase profits and that simply can’t be justified.

In this accident, Mr. Gary was deprived of the benefit of his seatbelt and airbag due to the collapse of the occupant compartment. The collapse was a direct result of the design flaws put in place by GM. His head was driven into the A pillar of the vehicle and Mr. Gary died as a result of this massive trauma to his head. The occupant survival space, which is referred to as the “safety cage,” was totally destroyed in the crash. It was significant that the W car performed poorly in GM’s internal testing. In fact, several prototype vehicles did not even meet the company’s internal standards. Our kinematics expert said that had the occupant compartment been preserved, Mr. Gary’s seatbelt and airbag would have been able to perform properly resulting in no life-threatening injuries.

J.P. Sawyer and Cole Portis represented Mr. Gary’s family in this case and did an outstanding job. The case was settled during mediation for an amount that is confidential. Our experts were: Bryant Buchner (accident reconstruction); Jim Mundo (design); and Dr. Joe Burton (occupant kinematics). Our firm has had other cases involving GM’s $1800 program and another called the $2500 program. In each case, the compromising of safety by the company resulted in tragic consequences for innocent victims.


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