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Gas Tank Explosions and Stretch Limousines

Wednesday, June 12, 2013By Richard Alexander

[caption id="attachment_4681" align="alignleft" width="150"] Limo on San Mateo Bridge near San Francisco caught fire burning five women inside alive. Photo Credit: Photo News[/caption]

Five women died when the Lincoln Town Car they were traveling in erupted into flames while crossing the San Mateo Bridge in Northern California on May, 4, 2013. Four more women clamored their way out the passenger window and driver’s compartment. The survivors narrowly escaped and were treated for smoke inhalation and burns. 

The women that were trapped inside the vehicle as it burned were found toward the front of the passenger area. Investigators believe that the women were attempting to climb through the privacy divider. The passenger’s side door was engulfed in flames making it impossible for them to flee.

Witnesses at the scene say that the limousine had not been involved in a crash before catching on fire. The driver pulled over when the women alerted him to smoke filling the passenger seating area. Within seconds the side and back end of the vehicle were ablaze. 

When vehicles are modified, such as this stretch Lincoln Town Car, going against Ford is not a viable option.  When this limousine was stretched, the wheel base was extended and whenever this limousine pulled up or down a driveway, the likelihood that the rear gas tank would bottom out was increased.   Gas tanks do not fail except when.  Heavy under plating would have provided protection from ground strikes.  That and regular inspections would have prevented the gas tank damage that caused these deaths and burns. 

Gas burns are outrageously painful and death by being burned alive is beyond comprehension.   It is humbling to be called upon as a lawyer to hold accountable the responsible those making commercial decisions and putting safety second.  Many times the manufacturer is fully aware that there is a problem. That was the case t in the wrongful death of a 19 year-old man burned to death in a side impact of a 1987 Chevrolet pick-up truck with gas tanks mounted outside the frame beneath the doors. GM knew there was a hazard but continued to produce the trucks so they could offer a 40-gallon capacity vehicle. 

In a national consumer class action against General Motors for 5,500,000 owners of the trucks sued for trucks having saddlebag gas tanks. I represented the original 278 owners under the Magnusson-Moss Act for breach of warranty in federal court. Our team responded to discovery for the 278 owners as well as contributing experience in engineering and gas tank failure cases. We retained liability experts for preliminary motions and proposed alternative fuel system designs that would keep consumers safe. 

In another case, against Chrysler Corporation, four teenage boys were burned to death on Christmas Day when the 1978 Dodge Ram charger they were traveling in overturned. This was one of the most emotionally challenging cases we worked on in more than 25 years of practice. The boys hadn't been driving recklessly or drinking. They would have survived the roll over had Chrysler taken action to create a safe fuel system. The company had mounted the gas tank filler tube to the side of the vehicle with full knowledge that this was a recipe for disaster. We represented all for four families and recovered an undisclosed amount. 

Our firm also recovered $1,680,000 on behalf of Dr. Paul Chin who was rear-ended in his 1969 BMW 1600 by an intoxicated driver traveling at 90 miles per hour. Dr. Chin suffered third degree burns to 65 percent of his body when his BMW exploded upon impact. To prove BMW's liability in the case we purchased two vehicles and did impact tests that showed the vehicle was defective. This settlement was the first known case in the United States in which BMW agreed to settlement for a design defect. 

Gas tanks rarely fail, but when it is foreseeable that they might fail, especially in untested modified vehicles, safety engineering needs must take priority.

If you or someone you know has been injured by a defective product, contact the defective product lawyers at the Alexander Law Group for a free case evaluation or call 888.777.1776. All calls free and confidential.



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