General Motors Corp. pickup settlement dismissed on appeal

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ A state appeals court has thrown out a nationwide class-action settlement that would have given $1,000 vouchers to millions of owners of General Motors Corp. trucks.

Critics had claimed the side-mounted gas tanks on the trucks were fire hazards in side-impact crashes. Most trucks' tanks are mounted in the middle of the frame to protect them.

The settlement would have covered nearly six million owners of C- and K-series trucks built from 1973 to 1987 and R- or V- series trucks built from 1987 to 1991. The vouchers would be redeemable toward the purchase of a new GM truck.

The First Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Monday that the state judge who approved the settlement failed to consider federal rules aimed at protecting the rights of people _ GM truck owners in this case _ not yet identified in the lawsuit.

Critics of the settlement said plaintiffs attorneys sold away the rights of truck owners so that the lawyers could collect $26 million in fees. They also said GM tried to shed its liability for the vehicles by issuing vouchers that would induce people to buy another GM vehicle.

``It shows you can't try to railroad a settlement through a rural Louisiana court, or anywhere, and expect the courts to dance to whatever tune you play,'' said one critic, attorney Stephen Gardner of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety.

Spokesmen for General Motors on legal issues were not in their offices Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Monday's decision marked the third settlement to be rejected in class-action litigation over the trucks. A federal appeals court in Texas struck down a nationwide settlement in 1995.

With earlier settlements in the dustbin, attorneys for GM and truck owners moved to settle the Louisiana case presided over by state District Judge Jack Marionneaux in Iberville Parish near Baton Rouge.

The appeals court ruled that he erred in approving the case as a class-action suit addressing the rights of truck owners nationwide.