Polowski v GM

On February 12, 2004 at approximately 5:17 a.m., the Plaintiff's Decedent, Donald Allen Polowsky was operating a 1994 Oldsmobile Bravada on State Route 201, also known as Bunola River Road, traveling southbound when he encountered an isolated patch of ice and water, as well as deteriorated road surface conditions.  Donald Polowsky's vehicle lost traction,

 
 Subject Vehicle - Olds Bravada
 
 Olds Bravada Master Cylinder
 
 Master Cylinder - Alternative Design
 
 Window Sill Beam that intrudes the occupant's compartment.
veered off the road, and traveled at a relatively low speed into a lightly wooded area, striking a few small trees and then hitting another tree with its front-end and coming to a stop. 

As a result of a defect in the vehicle's master cylinder container, an engine fire ignited.  As a result of a design defect in the door structure/system, Donald Polowsky was trapped in the burning vehicle.  While the accident event and collision were clearly survivable, the vehicle's design defects caused Donald Polowsky serious, grievous and permanent injuries, resulting in his death.

The design defect in the master cylinder allowed brake fluid to get out and be in a location where it could be ignited.  The Bravada had a snap-on lid of the brake fluid sump on top of the master cylinder.  Had the lid been sealed, the brake fluid could not have gotten out of the sump and been ignited below.  Additionally, an alternative containment system offered by General Motors employs a screw-down top, which would have prevented the brake fluid from exiting the sump and thereby have prevented the fire from occurring.

What caused the attempts by the rescuers to extract Mr. Polowsky from the vehicle to fail?  The driver's door was pushed inboard during the first tree impact, a short metal beam that was located along the rear edge of the driver's door window sill, and apparently provided elbow support for the padding at this location, was pushed inward at its forward end.  This resulted in the sharp corner of the end of this metal beam, while still attached to the rear, to be sticking out several inches into the driver's occupant space, a short ways behind the steering wheel.  The end of the beam would subsequently form a ready anchor for anything to catch on, should someone be attempting to drag a driver out of harm's way through the driver's window.

This design defect hazard would have been absent if the metal beam had simply been extended all the way to the front of the window sill and at the same time been properly anchored to the window sill.

As a direct result of the aforementioned accident, Donald Allen Polowsky, sustained traumatic asphyxiation, first and second degree burns on both hands, first and second degree burns on the anterior aspect of the distal half of the abdomen, third degree burns on the lower extremities, and, death. 

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