Our firm settled a case recently that was pending against General Motors on behalf of our client who lost his wife when the 2001 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer in which they were traveling rolled over. Carl Hammond was driving the Blazer, his wife Theresa was riding in the front passenger seat and their two boys were in the back seat. All of them were wearing their seat belts. While traveling on U.S. Highway 431, just outside of Huntsville, at a speed of approximately 45 mph, the vehicle struck water, hydroplaned and rolled over in the roadway. During the rollover, the roof substantially crushed downward and inward over the front passenger area, compromising the vehicle’s survival and the performance of Theresa’s seat belt.
As a result of the roof crush and seat belt failure, Theresa was partially ejected out of the vehicle, causing severe injuries which led to her death. Our client and his sons walked away from the accident with virtually no injuries. It was clearly a survivable event but for the roof crush. But, they will forever have to live with the loss of a wife and mother because of the design decisions GM made which ignored rollover safety.
In a rollover accident, if an occupant stays in the vehicle and the vehicle’s survival space is not compromised, that person should survive the accident. The roof is part of the structural support of a vehicle and helps form part of the “survival space” in a vehicle in the event of a crash. If a roof crushes substantially during an accident, it intrudes into the occupant’s “survival space,” thus, exposing occupants to serious and fatal injuries.
There are an estimated six million Blazers, including pickup trucks, on the road today. Studies have shown that SUVs are two and a half times more likely to roll over than passenger cars. In a recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it ranked the Blazer among the least-safe SUVs on the road.
GM has known for many years that its roofs are too weak. The company’s own internal safety guideline for its test drivers reveal that GM knew all about the danger of its weak roofs. GM’s safety guidelines require that its test drivers use a helmet and seat belt for a driving maneuver as simple as lane changes from zero to 55 mph if its static stability factor (SSF) is less than 1.10. This guideline includes the popular Blazer and Jimmy vehicles. Further, GM’s Safety Guidelines require the installation of a roll bar or roll cage in the same vehicles under these same simple driving maneuvers in order to protect the occupants from roof crush.
GM continues to deny that roof crush causes injuries. Yet, it puts roll cages on its trucks for its own employees to protect them from roof crush. The sad reality is that, for 32 years, GM has known that its roofs on its vehicles were weak and not capable of withstanding forces in real world rollover accidents. But, during those 32 years, instead of strengthening its roofs to prevent deaths and serious injuries, GM has continued to deceive the federal government and the motoring public by claiming that roof crush does not matter. GM’s failure to build its vehicles with strong roofs continues to tragically take the lives of people like our client’s wife and others. The Hammond case was pending in Madison County at the time of settlement. The amount of the settlement is confidential at GM’s request. Rick Morrison from our firm handled this case for the Hammond family and did a very good job for them.
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