Our firm recently settled a case against General Motors involving the rollover of a 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer. We represented a family who lived in the Wiregrass area of Alabama in this case. The wife was driving a 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer on U.S. Highway 84 when she made an evasive maneuver. The Trailblazer vehicle began to fishtail, ran off the road, and rolled over as it came back on the roadway. While the wife was properly belted at the time of the accident, she was partially ejected through the side window. As a result, she suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. She had no other serious or life-threatening injuries. The wife has made great strides in her recovery process, but she still requires around-the-clock care. The husband and wife are some of the finest folks in this world. The husband has worked tirelessly to make sure that his wife receives the best possible care so that she will have the best chance of recovery from this life-changing injury. The couple’s attitude throughout the entire case has been an inspiration to all of us.
Our primary claim was that the 2002 Trailblazer was defectively designed because it was not equipped with an electronic stability control (“ESC”) system. GM developed its own ESC system, “StabiliTrak,” in the mid-90’s. GM chose not to incorporate StabiliTrak – or any other form of electronic stability control – on the 2002 Trailblazer, even though Stabilitrak had been used in GM passenger cars as early as 1997. At the time that the 2002 Trailblazer was built, GM knew that SUVs roll over at a much higher frequency than passenger cars. GM also had knowledge that when SUVs roll over, there is a high likelihood of serious injury or death. It was our contention that had the vehicle been equipped with an ESC system such as Stabilitrak, the accident would never have occurred. The ESC system would have corrected the vehicle dynamics and the wife would have been able to drive straight on down the road.
Additionally, the vehicle was defectively designed due to GM’s failure to incorporate an appropriate “rollover protection system” into the vehicle. The Trailblazer should have been equipped with a roll-sensored, roof rail airbag. This type of airbag deploys from the roof-rail of the vehicle in the event of a rollover. Such an airbag would have prevented the wife’s head from going outside the “survival space” of the vehicle. An unprotected, internal GM document indicated that as early as 1971, GM engineers discussed a “safety net” system which would protect against the exact type of injury that our client sustained. But, GM chose to take no action to develop this safety feature until 2005. Even then, the car-maker only offered the roof-rail airbag system as an option on the 2005 Trailblazer.
This was a complicated case, involving highly technical engineering issues. GM took the position that, at the time the 2002 Trailblazer vehicle was manufactured, it was not technologically feasible to incorporate these two safety systems on the vehicle. Our response was simple – if GM had wanted to implement these features it could have done so as early as 1997. Our experts – both former automotive industry employees – testified that the technology was clearly available at that time. The timeline we developed in the case showed that once NHTSA started pressuring automobile manufacturers to prevent rollovers and protect occupants in the event they do occur, GM was able to implement these systems in a timely manner.
J.P. Sawyer and Cole Portis from our firm handled the case along with Steadman Shealy, an outstanding lawyer from Dothan, who served as co-counsel with our firm. Working together, we were able to help our clients reach a satisfactory settlement in their case. The amount of the settlement was confidential at GM’s request. However, it’s good to know that justice was done for a couple who were victims of corporate wrongdoing, and we were pleased to be able to help them.
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