Today, we settled a California teenager’s case against General Motors for an undisclosed amount in a product liability lawsuit involving defective quality of glass on the GMC Yukon sport utility vehicle. Our client, Michael (last name omitted), only 16 at the time of the incident lost his left eye after the tempered glass on the passenger side window of the sport utility vehicle shattered inward striking him in the face during a traffic collision. As a part of the settlement terms, General Motors required that the parties keep the amount of the settlement confidential.
The accident occurred July 7, 2006 when the Yukon where Michael was a passenger collided with a Lexus at the intersection of Golden Springs Road and Diamond Bar Boulevard in Diamond Bar. Michael was seated behind the front seat passenger and was properly restrained.
We alleged in the lawsuit that GM, as a cost-cutting measure, used tempered glass in its vehicle everywhere except in the windshield where stronger laminated glass is required as a safety measure. While this move possibly helped the auto maker dig itself out of a financial crunch back in the 1960s, it seriously compromised the safety of consumers. Tempered glass easily shatters upon impact causing people to get ejected on to the roadway resulting in major injuries. This type of glass could also pierce its occupants causing the type of injury that this teenager suffered.
Laminated glass is much safer because it consists of two sheets of glass sandwiched together with a layer of adhesive in between. It is designed to substantially prevent shattering in accidents while tempered glass tends to do exactly that during a crash.
Our client suffered significantly as a result of this crash and the injuries it caused him. He had to undergo emergency surgery to remove glass fragments from his eye and to repair numerous internal tears. He needed further surgery to implant a prosthetic eye. Needless to say, he experienced severe pain and emotional trauma in the process. His medical bills exceeded $160,000 and he missed work for three months.
What a horrible situation for a teenager to be faced with! The fact that suddenly he had lost one eye was bad enough. But the fear of losing the other eye as well in the future if he were afflicted with a disease such as cataract or glaucoma is even more frightening. He will always have a wall of blindness on the left side and nothing can be done about it. It could have been prevented had GM put safety and its consumers ahead of profit.
GM’s argument that federal standards allow for either tempered or laminated glass in the side windows does not hold water because this company consciously CHOSE to replace laminated glass with the cheaper, but far more dangerous, tempered glass in its vehicles’ rear and side windows.
This case alone is a clarion call for federal officials to strengthen the regulations when it comes to products that are used in our automobiles. Safer seatbelts, stronger seats, airbags that actually deploy in a crash, stronger and heavier roofs that won’t cave in and crush occupants in a rollover – consumers absolutely need these safety measures and auto makers must stop cutting corners in order to fill up their coffers.
Our goal in this case and in every automobile product liability case we take on is to hold these companies responsible for the cheap or defective products they put on the markets. This settlement will also hopefully allow our young client to move on with his life. We can never give him his eye or his vision back. But we move on today with the satisfaction that we made GM pay for a bad decision that cost a young man his eyesight. Hopefully they’ll see the light, even if it is filtered by dollar signs.