Arizona residents may be aware that General Motors has been ordered to pay criminal fines and civil damages of about $2 billion due to a defective ignition switch that has been connected with more than 100 deaths. GM continues to face litigation over the defective switches, and the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to a new wave of lawsuits on April 24. The Detroit-based car maker had hoped to appeal a New York federal court's decision to allow the lawsuits to move forward, but the nation's highest court has declined to review that ruling.
GM had originally prevailed in the case when a bankruptcy judge ruled in 2015 that the company was protected from liability for actions it took prior to filing bankruptcy, but the decision was overturned because GM had failed to properly notify vehicle owners about the problem. Reports emerged indicating that high-level GM executives had known about the defective switches for years. The appeals court ruled that barring the litigation would deny the plaintiff's rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuits have been filed by individuals injured in accidents caused by the faulty switches and the family members of those killed and the owners of GM vehicles that depreciated significantly after the issue gained widespread media attention. The Detroit-based car maker eventually recalled 2.6 million vehicles to fix the problem.
Large corporations will often try to settle product liability lawsuits quickly when their efforts to thwart them in the courtroom have failed. Manufacturers may be ordered to pay punitive damages when they have not adequately protected consumers, and this is especially true when there is evidence of a cover-up or other corporate malfeasance. Experienced personal injury attorneys may point these considerations out during settlement negotiations.