GM Takes Ignition Switch Fight To High Court
The automaker, which has already paid more than $870 million in out-of-court settlements related to defective ignition switches, wants the Supreme Court to overturn a defective products verdict from a lower appeals court.
Previously, General Motors argued that the “old GM” was liable for damages, and once the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, the “new GM” was a different company and therefore not responsible for previous acts of negligence. However, appeals court judges did not agree, instead ruling that the “new GM” was not substantially different from the “old GM” and company executives knew about the defective products. Undaunted, GM maintains that bankruptcy laws allowed it to shed previous liabilities, and that includes negligence lawsuits.
Unless the Supreme Court overturns the lower court’s verdict, roughly 130 cases will continue to move forward through the system.
GM Ignition Switches
In February 2014, General Motors voluntarily recalled six vehicles manufactured between 2005 and 2010; that recall eventually included over 30 million cars. At the time, it was the largest such action in history.
Apparently, the switch detent plunger was defectively designed, because it was too small to to keep the ignition mechanism from accidentally rotating. So, the vehicle ignition would unpredictably shut down while the car was in motion, and because the ignition went off, the airbag would not deploy. GM eventually admitted that the fault directly caused 124 deaths, but the actual number may be much higher, as the manufacturer rejected nearly all ignition switch-related wrongful death claims.
As more information about the defective products surfaced, GM CEO Mary Barra was hard-pressed to explain why it took GM almost a decade to initiate a recall. Furthermore, engineers could have fixed the problem for only 57 cents per vehicle, but the company did nothing. Eventually, a report concluded that GM was incompetent but did not cover up any wrongdoing, about a dozen executives left the company, and the automaker paid a $35 million fine.
Manufacturers have a duty to make and sell products that are both reasonably safe and fit for ordinary use, and the GM vehicles with defective ignition switches clearly fall short of that standard. To obtain compensation, victims can bring one of two theories:
- Manufacturing Defect: Sometimes, a manufacturing error, like an improperly-calibrated assembly machine or mistakes during shipment, cause serious problems. The manufacturer is responsible as long as the defect occurred before the product or part left its control.
- Design Defect: In this instance, a critical part could not do what it was designed to do, probably because the manufacturer wanted to cut costs. These kinds of defective products cases are actually quite common.
In design defect cases, some jurisdictions require victims to prove that the manufacturer rejected a reasonable alternative design.
Defective products injure or kill thousands of people every year. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Leicthfield, contact Attorney Gary S. Logsdon. We routinely handle complex tort cases.