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Judge rules plaintiffs may seek punitive damages against GM

General Motors has been accused of manufacturing and selling defective cars for more than a decade. These vehicles have been involved in many serious accidents in Ohio and across the country, resulting in numerous lawsuits against the corporation. Now a federal judge has ruled that the corporation can be assessed with punitive damages, even though GM argued that its earlier bankruptcy case shielded it from liability.

The lawsuits stem from automobile ignition switches that were installed and sold despite known defects. GM admitted that it knew the switches were faulty and that they caused problems that led to automobile accidents, but it did not order a recall for more than 10 years.

The effect of the 2009 bankruptcy was to shield the new GM from liabilities of the old company. However, a federal bankruptcy judge found in November 2015 that substantial amounts of knowledge and personnel had transferred from the old GM to the new GM, so punitive damages could still be sought by the plaintiffs, even for accidents that took place prior to GM emerging from bankruptcy.

Companies that sell defective products are liable for any harm that results because of their negligence. If they can be shown to have acted with extreme imprudence or terrible irresponsibility, such as a case where they knew about product defects for years before moving to fix them, then it may be possible to sue for punitive damages. An attorney may be of use to anyone who wishes to move such complex litigation through the courts, especially as there may be more than one person affected by the defective product. If that is the case, then the attorney might be able to offer advice as to how to structure a civil suit with multiple plaintiffs.

Source: NBC News, “Plaintiffs in GM Ignition Switch Cases Can Seek Punitive Damages: Judge”, Nov. 9, 2015