The recent personal injury case being filed against GM on behalf of 156 people that died or were injured due to allegedly defective vehicles is proving to be a teachable moment for Americans on personal injury law and the responsibility of corporations. The case centers around ignition switch defects where airbags may not have deployed in more than 2.5 million cars of various makes that the company recalled earlier this year.
The most recent lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York by Texas personal injury attorney Bob Hilliard who is fighting the company’s claims of bankruptcy protection. The attorney represents families of 20 people who died, allegedly as a result of vehicle crashes tied to a GM defect— and another 136 who were injured.
GM states that this latest personal injury lawsuit is not eligible to be covered under the victim’s compensation fund as the accidents happened before the company’s 2009 bankruptcy. Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney and independent compensation expert hired by GM to run the compensation plan states that lawsuit plaintiffs are ineligible due to the “restrictive nature of the fund’s vehicle qualifications.” (Kathleen Feinberg, incidentally, is a very well known and highly respected lawyer, who acted as the administrative lawyer for the 9-11 fund established by Congress for victims of the 9-11 attacks and their families and was also hired as the admin for the BP oil spill case).
Like any business or corporation that is hit with a personal injury lawsuit, GM is attempting to both minimize their financial losses as well as the ongoing bad publicity. The company acknowledges that a faulty ignition switch is to blame for 54 accidents and 13 deaths where the victims will be compensated from the plan put in place. They allege that plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit do not fall into that compensation group due to factors such as recalled vehicles not named in the original recall and clear technical defects tied to the ignition switch defect.
Much of the case hinges on the issues surrounding bankruptcy protection and the obligations of the “new GM” that emerged from the bankruptcy brought on by the Great Recession, verses the “old GM” alleged to be the company that was active during production of the autos with defects. General Motors has admitted to knowing about the problem with the ignition switches for more than 12 years before a vehicle recall was ordered. This means that those who were injured or had claims during the “old GM” era are essentially out of luck.
The scope of the GM recall goes beyond the 2.59 million vehicles with the total topping more than 3 million. In fact, there are a number of law firms representing plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits connected with the ignition switch recall.
As of this writing, a Georgia judge denied GM’s motion to dismiss a wrongful death case that originally exposed the ignition defect. Although the original case was settled for $5 million, the attorneys for the plaintiff’s family refiled, and a trial date has been set for 2016. The refiling of the case is due to what they allege to be fraudulent actions by the company in hiding the ignition switch defect from the public.
What is known at this point is that the outcome of this latest personal injury case against General Motors will be uncertain for some time to come. This glimpse behind the curtain of a major personal injury case is informative for everyone as it shows the nature of the fight to secure justice for victims by skilled personal injury attorneys.
Stuart A. Carpey, who has been practicing as an attorney since 1987, focuses his practice on complex civil litigation which includes representing injured individuals in a vast array of personal injury cases.