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Multimillion Dollar Settlement for Vehicle Fire Caused by Unsafe Fuel System

In this confidential settlement, a married couple, ages 53 and 49, together with their son, age 19, were traveling in their 1978 model year van in Lancaster County. The van developed mechanical trouble and was traveling between 15-25 mph when it was rear-ended by a large tractor-trailer at about 60 mph. The van exploded into flames, burning the occupants to death.

After the case against the owner and operator of the tractor-trailer was settled, attorneys Alan M. Feldman and Daniel J. Mann were asked to consider bringing a “crashworthiness” claim against the manufacturer of the van, based upon Pennsylvania products liability law which requires that motor vehicles protect occupants from reasonably foreseeable collisions. Following an exhaustive investigation, it was determined to pursue a claim on behalf of the survivors of the decedents against the van’s manufacturer.

Feldman and Mann, 1) obtained confidential documents that the manufacturer was aware of alternative, safer designs, 2) took depositions of the manufacturer’s fuel system designers and engineers, and 3) retained the top fuel system safety experts in the country. Trial commenced on February 9, 2004, with Feldman and Mann presenting a technically sophisticated case that included video clips, animations, and models, using cutting-edge equipment. A “courtroom technologist” was employed by Feldman Shepherd attorneys to help maximize the impact of their multimedia presentation supporting the defective nature of the van’s fuel system.

The defendant manufacturer countered with evidence that the van was 21-years-old, badly corroded and lacking much of its structural integrity to protect the fuel system, which was in a vulnerable location behind the van’s rear axle. On the third day of trial, a substantial confidential settlement was reached.