A jury found General Motors (GM) guilty of negligently designing the fuel tank in a family station wagon that exploded after a low-speed crash. Six people burned, and two died, including a young boy named Shane McGee.
The McGee family sued GM for their horrible burn injuries and for the death of Shane. During the six-month trial, attorney Bob Kelley questioned a former GM engineer named Ronald Elwell. Elwell testified that GM knew of the problem with this fuel tank, and knew how to solve it with a fuel tank shield that cost approximately $4.50. Elwell explained that GM decided not to fix the problem because even at only $4.50 the shield cost too much.
General Motors tried to exclude from evidence a study calculating how much it would be worth for GM to eliminate deaths from fuel-fed fires in GM vehicles. The study concluded that fuel-fed fires cost GM $2.20 per vehicle and that it would only be worth $2.40 per new model vehicle to prevent all fuel-fed fires. Attorney John Uustal obtained secret documents about this study, which were revealed to the American public for the very first time during the trial. This evidence revealed a massive cover-up to hide GM’s decision to let people burn alive to increase profits.
The McGees’ attorneys fitted an exemplar station wagon with a fuel tank shield and then ran a crash test at substantially higher speeds than the actual collision. The real automobile accident was so minor that the McGees initially thought they had been hit by a basketball. The crash test was run at 30 miles per hour, simulating a direct spear-like impact into the tank. The shield worked, even in that very severe test. The fuel system maintained its integrity. No fuel leaked out, and the fuel tank essentially undamaged, as shown in photographs taken immediately after the shield was removed.
The news media initially reported that the verdict was for $33 million, but the actual verdict was for $60 million. The appellate courts ordered GM to pay the full $60 million dollars, plus $31 million in interest.
The CBS program 60 Minutes ran a long segment on the case and on the ways the trial has affected this country.
A man was ejected from his vehicle in an automobile collision. When he hit the ground he broke his neck, causing permanent paralysis. Because he was ejected from the vehicle, the police reported that he was unrestrained and that he had not been wearing his seatbelt. He insisted that he had been wearing his seatbelt and brought suit against the automobile manufacturer.
Attorney John Uustal conducted his own investigation and discovered evidence and witnesses that the police had missed. He hired world-class scientists to reconstruct the accident, test the seatbelt and analyze the evidence. He discovered a defect in the design of the seatbelt which allowed it to unlatch when struck in a certain way during a collision. He proved that the vehicle was struck in that way during the collision. He discovered evidence and witnesses that confirmed that the belt was hanging out the window immediately after the collision, which would have been impossible if the belt had not been worn. The seatbelt had failed and that was why the man was unrestrained in the accident.
The case settled for an unprecedented amount before trial.
A local firefighter was conducting routine maintenance on the oxygen equipment used for medical treatment of injured people. The LSP oxygen regulator exploded, setting him on fire. He was airlifted to the Level I Burn Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital and was hospitalized for over a week.
Our client had no way of knowing that these LSP oxygen regulators had exploded many times before June 1998. He had no way of knowing that this oxygen regulator had ignited firefighters, paramedics, and patients from coast to coast.
He filed a lawsuit against Allied Healthcare and moved the Court to allow a claim for “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are intended to punish intentional misconduct. After multiple hearings and motions, the Court allowed him to assert a claim for punitive damages.
Under questioning by Attorney John Uustal, Allied Healthcare’s representative admitted that Allied knew prior to the subject fire that LSP aluminum regulators were igniting firefighters and paramedics while they were trying to resuscitate patients. They also admitted that they knew that aluminum increased the risk of injury and was more dangerous than brass, that aluminum ignites with oxygen pressures as low as 25 psi, whereas it takes over 8000 psi to ignite brass, that brass improved the safety of the regulators, that all the post-fire aluminum LSP regulators examined had internal particle contamination including aluminum oxidation, that this “contamination” as Allied calls it cannot be prevented by the user and will occur without a doubt, and that this contamination causes fires.
Uustal hired Barry Newton, whom the FDA called the nation’s foremost forensic expert. He recreated the ignition and propagation of an LSP regulator. Newton testified that the regulator was defective. The case settled during the trial and these oxygen regulators have all been recalled.
A family man, football coach, and former United States Marine had his neck broken in an automobile collision. He worked the night shift at the railroad for a friend and was headed home early that morning for a Fourth of July barbecue. He was hit by a car being driven by a man who had been out all night. The Defendant’s attorney argued that our client was speeding and ran a red light. Attorney John Uustal proved that our client had a green light, and asked the jury to recognize our client’s suffering in their verdict. The jury found the Defendant negligent. The verdict was for over fifty million dollars. It was one of the largest in the country, and the case was featured in national news.
A young girl’s mother brought her to the doctor, knowing that something was wrong. Her pediatrician suspected a brain tumor and ordered a CT scan of the girl’s brain. Because the HMO had set up a pre-approval process to reduce the amount of money spent on CT scans and other diagnostic tests, the pediatrician’s decision was overruled. Several months later, the little girl collapsed and died.
John Uustal, who represented the family, moved the Court for an order allowing a claim for “punitive damages,” which are intended to punish intentional misconduct. The Court granted the motion and allowed the family to assert their claim.
Prior to trial, the girl’s family settled with the HMO and other defendants. Because of this case, the HMO no longer requires pre-approval for CT scans.