URGENT Jury Finds GM Negligent In Fiery Pickup Crash, Awards $105 Million Damages
Feb. 04, 1993
ATLANTA (AP) _ A jury today found General Motors negligent in the death of a teen-ager in a fiery crash and awarded his family more than $100 million in damages.
It awarded the parents of 17-year-old Shannon Moseley, who died in a crash in 1989, $4.2 million for the value of his life and $101 million in punitive damages. That was more than the $100 million parents' attorney had requested in punitive damages.
The jury deliberated 19 hours over three days before returning the verdict that GM was negligent this morning. A second hearing this afternoon was held to set the punitive damage amount. Jurors had heard four weeks of testimony in Fulton County State Court.
''The problem is getting this mammoth corporation to accept responsibility,'' Moseley family attorney James Butler told the jurors. ''Do it for a 17-year-old boy who did not deserve to die.''
GM attorney Fred Bartlit responded that the verdict itself was already ''a crushing blow'' to the company, which has suffered financial problems in recent years.
The company had no immediate comment on whether it would appeal the verdict and damage amount. Georgia law allows a judge to reduce or increase a damage award.
GM has been under criticism for the design of some older pickup truck models that had fuel tanks placed ''sidesaddle,'' outside the truck frame. Critics contended that this design made the trucks more likely to catch fire in accidents.
The trial was described as the first in which a lawsuit involving the tank issue was decided by a jury.
The company has argued that it sidesaddle models complied with federal safety standards. GM used the design on about 4.7 million 1973-87 Chevrolet and GMC C-K series full-size pickups. Newer models have the tank mounted inside the frame rails.
Young Moseley, of Snellville, died after his 1985 GMC pickup was struck by a drunken driver and caught fire. Thomas and Elaine Moseley contended that it was the fire, not the initial crash, that killed him and that the fire was hastened by the placement of the fuel tank.
GM contended the youth died quickly from a head injury and disputed that gasoline from a punctured fuel tank fed the flames.
The victim's parents smiled and hugged their lawyers when the verdict was announced today, but they declined to comment immediately. GM officials issued a statement saying the jury acted out of emotion.
''A trial such as this one inevitably is conducted in an emotionally charged atmosphere,'' the GM statement said. ''It is not surprising that jurors sometimes can look past the complicated technical facts and judge large companies on an emotional level in sympathy with the plaintiff.''
Last year, the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer group, urged federal regulators to recall the trucks. The group contends more than 100 people have died in crash-related fires in the trucks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is studying the issue.
A key issue in the Georgia case was whether Moseley experienced pain and suffering before dying. Georgia law allows punitive damages in such a case only if pain and suffering can be proven.
''More will burn, more will die unless something is done about it,'' Butler, the parents' attorney, told the jury in his closing argument Monday. ''General Motors has a heavy dose of justice coming - the time is now.''
GM attorney Bartlit told jurors that much of the testimony presented against the automaker was physically impossible.
''We all feel desperately sorry for the Moseleys,'' Bartlit said. ''We all do. We all want to help. But testimony that is inconsistent with the laws of nature cannot help.''
Butler said GM has settled 120 similar suits, a figure the company denies.