Posted by Sheyenne Hurt-Lewis.
General Motors created millions of vehicles with defective ignition switches. This defect is linked to more than 100 deaths and 200 reported injuries. Many lawsuits have arisen from these defective switches which makes General Motors likely to face a large sum of punitive damages which, “could amount to millions, if not billions of dollars,” as stated by Judge Gerber. Punitive damages are those intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from similar wrongdoing. “GM had sought to block plaintiffs, including those suing for personal injury or wrongful death, from making punitive damages claims.” The recent defects ignited numerous other complaints of other GM cars recalled in 2014 that were “equipped with a faulty ignition switch that can slip out of the run position and disable safety features including air bags.” The effects of these defects have resulted in numerous injuries and lost lives.
Robert Hillard is representing nearly 1,500 plaintiffs suing GM for the injuries and deaths that are tied to the defective ignition switch. Hillard is confident that his clients are capable of being awarded the punitive damages they are seeking. GM has already spent $575 million to settle Hillard’s cases but there are still a large number of cases that remain unsettled. In September, GM agreed to pay nearly $900 million to settle a case similar to this. In addition to this payment, they were also forced to pay a $35 million fine for failing to report the defect themselves when they were first made aware of it. The company created a compensation fund of $625 million for victims.
GM attempted to restructure, and split into “New GM” and “Old GM.” Old GM kept all liabilities but agreed to be held responsible for “future product-liability cases involving other vehicles.” Judge Gerber wrote, “New GM may be held responsible, on claims for both compensatory and punitive damages, for its own knowledge and conduct” on the basis that workers were aware of the defective switch and related accident claims. However, it was made clear by Judge Gerber that punitive damages can only be sought against New GM if and only if it’s solely on the basis of the conduct or knowledge of New GM.
Sheyenne is a management major at the Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University, Class of 2018.