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GM Asks Judge to Overturn Award

July 29, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ General Motors Corp. asked a judge to overturn an unprecedented $4.9 billion product liability judgment for six people who were severely burned when their Chevrolet Malibu exploded in flames in a 1993 collision.

``If this award is not over the line, there is none. It cannot stand,″ the automaker said in legal papers filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

On July 9, a jury awarded Patricia Anderson, her four children and family friend Jo Tigner $107 million in compensatory damages and $4.8 billion in punitive damages for injuries they suffered during the 1993 Christmas Eve accident. They were badly burned when their car was rear-ended by a drunk driver and exploded.

GM contends that punitive damages should not have been allowed in the case. The judgment, according to GM, is some 200 times and nearly $4.8 billion greater than the highest award in a federal case.

GM said in court papers that there was ``no evidence, much less clear and convincing evidence″ that the company put profits ahead of safety in designing the 1979 Chevrolet Malibu.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued in the trial that the gas tank was placed too close to the rear bumper and that better designs would have placed it over the axle or incorporated a shield. They also said a GM analysis showed the cost of settling lawsuits arising from crashes in which victims are fatally burned was less _ $2.40 a car _ than the cost _ $8.59 a car _ of fixing the problem.

In its motion to set aside the judgment, GM again argued that the placement of the tank behind the axle was safe and that placement of the tank over the axle could be dangerous.

According to the GM court papers, the Malibu’s ``excellent safety record,″ which the company said it was precluded from proving in court, and its ``state-of-the-art testing″ used in deciding on the fuel tank location shows GM’s ``conscious regard, not disregard, for safety.″

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