Supreme Court Opens The Door For Ignition Switch Liability Cases
General Motors now faces up to $10 billion in additional defective ignition switch claims, because the Supreme Court rejected the automaker’s final appeal.
Previously, GM lawyers tried to convince a federal appeals court that because of the company’s 2009 bankruptcy filing, the “new GM” is not liable for the negligent acts of the “old GM,” which included installing defective ignition switches into millions of vehicles. Furthermore, they claimed, the automaker recalled 2.6 million vehicles and set up a $600 million victims compensation fund, which should have sufficiently put the matter to rest. However, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was unpersuaded, ruling that the “new GM” should have known about the issue long before the company went public with the defect, and so in this instance, bankruptcy did not absolve the company of liability.
Defective ignition switches on GM vehicles have been associated with more than 120 fatalities.
GM Defective Ignition Switches
As far back as 2002, General Motors cars starting rolling off the assembly line even though the manufacturer knew that they had a fatal flaw. Essentially, the switch detent plungers on these cars are too small to stop the inevitible accidental rotation that shuts off the engines. So, because of the defective ignition switches, these cars could shut off at almost any moment, even while the car was in motion. The ignition shutdown affects power, braking ability, airbag inflation, and a host of other functions, leaving the drivers completely helpless.
GM covered up the defect for years. After news of the defective ignition switch scandal finally broke and the federal government investigted the matter, the automaker paid $900 million to settle a criminal case, and also paid a $35 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is the maximum penalty for this kind of infraction.
Even after GM recalled vehicles, many future victims did not know about the issue, because the notices usually went to the owner of record, which is often different from the person who is actually driving the car at the time.
Lawsuits Against GM
Most of these actions have been consolidated in New York. The lawsuits essentially claim that General Motors:
- Lied to consumers when it promoted its vehicles as safe and reliable,
- Made blatantly false claims about its commitment to quality and safety throughout the manufacturing process, and
- Concealed the defective ignition switch issue from both government investigators and the people who purchased the cars.
Both these claims —failure to warn and design defect — are classic elements of a defective product negligence lawsuit.
In these cases, companies are strictly liable for the damages that their defective products cause. Victim/plaintiffs basically only need to establish that their vehicle had a defective ignition switch, and the mere fact that the car was on the recall list is probably sufficient to establish this point by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), which is the standard of proof in these instances.
Victim/plaintiffs must also prove that they were injured in a car crash.
Defective ignition switch victims may now be eligible for significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Leitchfield, contact Attorney Gary S. Logsdon. Our law firm has a small town atmosphere and access to nationwide resources.