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One of the Largest Personal Injury Verdicts in History: $4.9 Billion

One of the Largest Personal Injury Verdicts in History: $4.9 Billion

One of the largest personal injury verdicts in history, $4.9 billion, was awarded to a group of six litigants, Patricia Anderson and her four children along with family friend Jo Tigner. They were the victims of a fiery crash in a 1993 accident in Los Angeles that caused permanent scarring and injury to the passengers of the family's 1979 Chevrolet Malibu. The cause of the fire and resulting injuries came from a flawed design of the vehicle's gas tank, which was placed in a vulnerable area near the rear bumper, making it susceptible to a rear end collision that would either explode or start a fire.

The company found, in an internal study, that the cost of litigating claims for accidental deaths t that resulted from rear end damage was much lower than repairing the known defect ($2.40 per vehicle sold to litigate claims versus $8.59 per vehicle to fix the problem). The internal study, when released in court, provided the bombshell that turned the case in the favor of the plaintiffs. Although the total amount awarded was significantly reduced on appeal and through settlement negotiations, when General Motors filed bankruptcy on June 1, 2009, the outstanding amount due the Anderson plaintiffs was reorganized to payments worth 12 cents on the dollar for all outstanding claims related to the case.

The Case

The plaintiff, Patricia Anderson, was driving home from her Los Angeles area church after a Christmas Eve service, December 24, 1993, with her five passengers when she slowed to observe a red light signal. A drunk driver traveling at a high rate of speed (between 50 to 70 miles per hour) plowed into the rear end of the Anderson vehicle. The car exploded into flames as a result of the collision and the children suffered major burns. Ms. Anderson's five year old daughter Alisha, who was one of the passengers, suffered horrible disfigurement of her face and body and lost her right hand as a result of the accident.

The Issue

General Motors had been made aware of the problem related to the placement of the gas tank close to the rear bumper and the potential for a fire hazard. In the 1979 model year Chevrolet Malibu, the gas tank was placed a mere 11 inches from the rear bumper although in earlier models, the tank was mounted 20 inches from the rear bumper. The near ten inch difference in the placement of the gas tank meant that the rear of the 1979 Chevrolet Malibu was at a much greater risk exposure to fire than the older model vehicles. Attorneys for the company rationalized that if a death or personal injury were to occur as a result of the gas tank catching fire or exploding, the company can save money by litigating claims as oppose to making the investment in recalling the cars and fixing the problem.

The Trial

The lawsuit filed by the Andersons was heard in the Los Angeles Superior Court, Judge Ernest G. Williams presiding. At trial, the attorney for the Plaintiffs, Brian Panish, stated in reaction to the jury verdict that the message was sent to companies like General Motors to put people ahead of profits. The lynchpin for the verdict was a 1973 internal memo sent to General Motors management from an engineer with the Oldsmobile division, Edward Ivey, which gave the estimate for litigation of accidents involving the gas tank and setting that figure at $2.40 per vehicle.

General Motors was surprised by the jury award and felt that the gas tank design met and exceeded Federal mandates for safety. Richard Shapiro, who served as one of the attorneys representing General Motors went further to insist that the fault for the accident and subsequent disfigurement of the Anderson children and other occupants of the 1970 Chevrolet Malibu lay with the drunk driver, who was arrested and imprisoned. General Motors also felt that the trial judge refused to allow safety records and other information related to the vehicle that would have influenced the outcome of the jury's verdict.

The Aftermath

The amount awarded in the Anderson versus General Motors case set a record for a jury award, which continues to be one of the largest in history. Ultimately the $4.9 billion that was awarded by the jury, which represented $107 million in compensatory damages and $4.8 billion in punitive damages levied against General Motors, was reduced and negotiated to a lower amount, due in part to the fact that General Motors annual revenues at the time were $3 billion.

What is the legacy of this case? To serve as a lasting warning to companies that the community at large will not accept companies that put profits over people. As a result, it has helped make the vehicles we drive today safer.

Categories: Auto Accident Law

Proven Results

$875,000

Nursing Home Abuse

Woman suffering physical and emotional abuse at nursing home.

$25,000,000

Traumatic Brain Injury

Client injured in auto accident after driver ran stop sign.

$940,000

Post-Concussion Disorder

Women rear-ended while stopped at red light

$1,250,000

Medical Malpractice

Patient suffering nerve damage following hip operation.

$12,000,000

Semi-truck Accident

Woman suffering a traumatic brain injury following semi-truck accident.

$10,500,000

Slip and Fall

Woman suffering severe hip and ankle fracture after falling on defective step.

$797,000

Post-Concussion Disorder

Man suffered headaches and other post-concussion symptoms from vehicle crash.

$1,750,000

Semi-Truck Accident

Woman suffering post-concussion syndrome after vehicle rear-ended by tractor trailer.

$7,250,000

Traumatic Brain Injury

Man physically assaulted at his workplace.

$945,000

Auto Accident

Woman suffered from an ankle fracture after a truck turned in front of her vehicle.

$1,525,000

Auto Accident

Man suffered back injury after head-on collision.

Every case is unique and you can’t determine the value of your case by past results. Contact us 24/7/365 for a free evaluation of your own case in minutes.

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"Attorney Wruck did an amazing job in settling my personal injury case. His knowledge and experience specific to semi-truck accidents made all of the difference in the outcome of my case; the settlement exceeded my expectations!"
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"My case wasn’t very large, but they made it easy to recover damages when the insurance company didn’t even want to cover basic costs. The firm was responsive to my inquiries, and very clear about what was required and what could be expected, during every step of the process."
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"Attorney Wruck did an amazing job in settling my personal injury case. His knowledge and experience specific to semi truck accidents made all of the difference in the outcome of my case; the settlement exceeded my expectations! The staff at his firm was helpful, responsive and caring during a difficult time following a life-altering experience. I highly recommend Attorney Wruck and his firm."
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"After being involved in a car accident, I was very fortunate to work with Don Wruck. He explained everything to me and my family and made me feel involved in all decisions. I was very happy with the result of my case and happy to have found this firm!"
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Your Legal Team

Top-Rated Litigator.
Helping injury victims move forward.

Don is a founding partner and one of the nation’s top-ranked personal injury litigators. He is a member of the Multi-million Dollar Advocates Forum, which includes less than 1% of the nation’s trial lawyers, and awarded the highest ranking given by Martindale Hubbel and AVVO.

More importantly, Don understands representing personal injury victims is about more than recovering the best settlement: it’s about helping clients get back on their feet and supporting them in every aspect of their recovery.

Understanding the Insurance Company:
Getting Results.

In nearly all cases, our clients seek compensation from the wrongdoer’s insurance company. Before forming Wruck Paupore, Jason worked for a prominent law firm representing some of the world’s largest insurers. This experience gives Jason a deep understanding of the insurance industry and the strategies it uses to pay injury victims as little as possible.

Jason -- and our entire team -- put this inside knowledge to work to force insurance companies to pay what is actually owed. Often, we use the insurance company’s own tactics against them as we fight for the full compensation our client deserves.

More than 40 Years of Experience.
Still Fighting for Justice.

For more than four decades, Keith has been fighting for injury victims. During that time, he’s watched the insurance industry change, with insurers now more interested in protecting their stock price than treating injury victims fairly.

Since the beginning, Keith has put people first. From his childhood in Gary, Indiana during the 1960’s and working his way through law school, Keith has risen to become one of the Midwest’s most respected trial lawyers. He has never forgotten that being a lawyer is about helping people -- and seeing injury victims through struggles in a way that could change their lives forever.

Over the decades, Keith, Don and Jason have fought relentlessly for clients, even when other lawyers have said the case was impossible to win.