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New Lawsuit Accuses GM of Concealing Pickup Truck Defects

March 17, 1994

DETROIT (AP) _ A new lawsuit accuses General Motors Corp. of conspiring for 20 years to conceal defects in the design of its pickup trucks’ fuel tanks.

The suit filed Wednesday in Wayne County Circuit Court seeks $100 million for nine plaintiffs, all relatives of people killed or severely burned in crashes involving GM pickups between 1980 and 1989.

GM maintains that the full-sized Chevrolet and GMC pickups are safe.

The company already faces more than 50 lawsuits related to post-accident fires involving the pickups it built from 1973-1987. It has been ordered to pay at least five jury awards, including a $105 million judgment in 1993 to the parents of a Georgia teen-ager killed in a fiery 1989 crash. GM asked a Georgia appeals court to reverse that judgment.

GM said lawyers in the latest lawsuit are trying to ″poison public opinion and the environment within which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must conclude its review of the safety record of these trucks.″

The agency is deciding whether to order a recall of the six million older GM pickups with fuel tanks mounted outside the frame rails. Critics say the design makes the trucks more likely to leak or explode in side-impact crashes.

The latest lawsuit claims that statutes of limitations on the plaintiffs’ personal injury claims should be lifted because GM covered up evidence of the trucks’ alleged defects in the sidesaddle fuel tank.

The plaintiffs include William Johnson of Midland, whose wife died in 1987 in a GM truck. Johnson said he didn’t sue then because he wasn’t aware the truck might have been defective, but contacted attorney Joe McCray of San Francisco after hearing reports of allegations about the pickups’ safety.