Courting Justice: Hey GM—Do the Right Thing

April 2, 2014

A personal injury lawsuit is nothing more than a claim for the payment of a debt. The debt is compensation owed under principles of democratic jurisprudence for breach of tort laws. One of the reasons a company will file for bankruptcy is to have the debts they owe discharged with little or no payment. When a person sues a company that goes into bankruptcy and has no insurance, that person will not be compensated.

When General Motors arose from bankruptcy in 2009, the terms of the bankruptcy precluded anyone from suing GM for injuries suffered due to a GM product prior to 2009. This means that people who were injured or the family of a person killed due to the faulty ignition switch in various GM cars prior to 2009 will not be compensated by GM for their harms and losses as a matter of law.

All that, however, may change. On April 1, 2014, GM chief executive Mary T. Barra announced that GM has engaged Kenneth Feinberg to explore whether GM should create a settlement fund to compensate those injured in accidents due to their car’s ignition switch. Feinberg was the chief architect of the settlement fund created to compensate families of people killed in 9/11, as well as the fund created for victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Ms. Barra made clear that no decision has been made as to whether a victim’s compensation fund will be created.

C’mon GM. This is a no-brainer. You knew about the defect in 2001 during pre-production testing of the Saturn Ion. In 2004, you knew about the defect when you unveiled the Chevrolet Cavalier. In 2005, you were advised by an engineer to fix the problem, but you rejected the idea. In 2007, you knew 16 year old Amber Rose died in a crash due to the faulty ignition switch, but chose not to formally investigate. In 2009, the Government bails you out of bankruptcy. Yet, it’s not until February and March of 2014 that you finally recall over 2 million cars to fix the problem.

GM, I don’t hold myself out as an expert in crisis management, but you currently look like the poster child for corporate greed; willing to let people die in the name of turning a profit. You’re not the first one to appear on this poster. The asbestos industry hid the fact that asbestos causes cancer. Ford hid the fact that the Ford Pinto had a propensity to blow up on rear impact and there is a good reason no one can sell 3-wheeled ATVs anymore in the United States.

If GM wants to get its face off the poster then they should listen to Spike Lee: Do the right thing. And do it quickly.