25 Year Anniversary: Brian Panish Reflects on $4.9 Billion Verdict in Anderson v. General Motors

Posted on July 9, 2024

On July 9, 1999, a Los Angeles jury ordered General Motors to pay $4.9 billion to the Anderson family for a defectively designed fuel system that caused their Chevy Malibu to burst into flames after it was rear-ended by a drunk driver. Brian Panish represented the Andersons in their auto product liability case and served as lead counsel at the 10-week trial that resulted in the largest personal injury verdict in United States history at the time.

Patricia Anderson, her four children, and family friend, Jo Tigner, were coming home from church on Christmas Eve when their 1979 Chevy Malibu was struck from behind and the vehicle’s gas tank exploded. As the fire consumed the passenger compartment of the Malibu, the adults were able to escape, but the four children were trapped in the back of the car and suffered severe burn injuries. Young Alisha Parker was the most gravely injured. with burns so severe she lost the fingers on one hand and underwent more than 70 surgeries.

At the heart of the case against General Motors was a 1973 internal memo sent to General Motors management from an engineer which estimated that the litigation cost for accidents involving the gas tank would be $2.40 per vehicle. In contrast, the cost of moving the fuel tank to a safer location would cost the auto manufacturer $8.59 per vehicle. This evidence demonstrated that General Motors made a calculated decision to put its own profits over the safety of its customers, leading to the devastating injuries suffered by the Anderson family.

On the 25 year anniversary of the landmark verdict, Mr. Panish reflects on the case that forever changed the landscape of product liability law. In his battle against General Motors, Mr. Panish and his legal team achieved justice not only for the Anderson family but for all consumers nationwide who have benefited from the message that this landmark verdict sent to corporate America.


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