Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
July 3, 2024

McGee v. General Motors Corporation: Corporate Negligence

In a trial that captivated the nation, General Motors (GM) was found guilty of negligently designing a fuel tank that led to a tragic explosion in a family station wagon. The incident resulted in the death of two individuals, including a young boy named Shane McGee. The case of McGee v. General Motors Corporation not only highlighted serious flaws in automotive safety but also exposed the depths of corporate malfeasance.

The Incident: Severe and Fatal Injuries 

The McGee family’s ordeal began innocently enough at a toll booth in Virginia Beach. While idling in their Oldsmobile station wagon, a trailer from a nearby truck came unhitched and slowly drifted across lanes of traffic. It eventually tapped the back of the McGee’s vehicle. Despite the low-speed impact, the car quickly burst into flames. The family members suffered severe burns, with Shane McGee, a young boy, sustaining fatal injuries as he ran towards his parents engulfed in flames. The McGee family, represented by attorney Bob Kelley, began the process of suing GM for their devastating injuries and Shane’s death. 

The Evidence and Cover-Up

Plaintiffs argued that GM was aware of the risks associated with placing the fuel tank near the vehicle’s rear bumper but failed to take adequate steps to mitigate these risks. GM denied this until breakthrough evidence was uncovered. 

The trial uncovered shocking evidence of GM’s disregard for human life in favor of profit. A hugely important testimony by former GM Engineer Edward Ivey, who calculated the economic value of preventing fuel-fed fires, was a game-changer for this case. 

The Edward Ivey Testimony

Retired GM engineer Edward Ivey testified during the trial that he recommended GM install a shield on the gas tanks of their cars to prevent accidents, but his proposal was rejected due to cost and production considerations.

In his testimony, Ivey revealed the financial impact to GM per vehicle to prevent such tragic incidents. He calculated that it would cost GM $2.40 per car for all existing vehicles on the road to eliminate the risk of fuel-fed fires. For new vehicles, the cost would be even lower at $2.20 per car manufactured.

The implication of this calculation: any engineering solution to the fuel-fed fire problem would need to cost less than $2.20.  This is a shocking glimpse into how corporations make decisions to put profits over people.

Part 1: Edward Ivey – Testimony: McGee v General Motors

Part 2: Edward Ivey – Testimony: McGee v General Motors

Part 3: Edward Ivey – Testimony: McGee v General Motors

Part 4: Edward Ivey – Testimony: McGee v General Motors

Further, the McGee legal team conducted a crash test with an exemplary station wagon equipped with the proposed fuel tank shield. Even at higher speeds and more severe impact conditions than the actual accident, the shield proved effective. The fuel system maintained its integrity, and no fuel leaked, demonstrating that the tragedy could have been avoided with the shield in place.

The Winning Verdict

The McGee family originally received a $33 million verdict. However, following appeals, the final award was increased to $60 million, which included $31 million in interest upheld by appellate courts.. The verdict was a clear message about the value of human life and corporate responsibility.

Media Coverage and Public Reaction

The case drew significant media attention, including an extensive segment on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The program delved into the trial and its broader implications for corporate accountability and automotive safety. The public was outraged to learn about the depths of GM’s negligence and the extent of their cover-up efforts. Read the 1998 CBS article here.

A Turning Point for Corporate Transparency 

The McGee v General Motors Corporation case stands as a landmark in legal and corporate history. It underscored the necessity for rigorous safety standards and transparent corporate practices. The case highlighted the importance of holding corporations accountable when they prioritize profits over human lives.

This case not only brought justice to the McGee family but also sparked a broader conversation about automotive safety and corporate ethics. It remains a significant case in product liability law, serving as a precedent for cases involving automotive safety and corporate responsibility. 

It underscored the legal principle that manufacturers have a duty to ensure the safety of their products and can be held liable for negligence in design or failure to implement known safety measures.

Uncovering Corporate Crime with Kelley | Uustal

At Kelley | Uustal, our attorneys are dedicated to representing victims of corporate negligence with care and respect. We handle difficult cases involving severe injuries, fatalities and complicated damages in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas and nationwide.

This particular case was resolved in 1998, but how we handle corporate crime hasn’t changed. The quote below from John Uustal encapsulates how Kelley | Uustal approaches corporate negligence cases. With this particular case, you see this foundation in play. “These cases are hard, it’s a war, and they’re hidden. Even before you can start litigating these cases, it’s a detective story, it’s a mystery that has to be solved. The corporate crime has to be uncovered, and it’s very, very difficult.” See the full video of John discussing corporate crime here.

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